Denise Rice

A former plant manager for Cormetech's manufacturing facility in Cleveland, Tenn., has been named as director of the Tennessee Manufacturers Association.

Denise Rice, a 25-year manufacturing veteran who founded her own workforce development consulting firm in Chattanooga this past July, will head the manufacturers' division of the Nashville- based Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Rice, who will continue to live in Chattanooga and operate Peak Performance Inc., started her new role March 1 and will work to help Tennessee build and grow its manufacturing workforce.

After shedding nearly 200,000 manufacturing jobs from 1990 to 2009, Tennessee has grown manufacturing employment by nearly 16 percent in the past seven years, adding back nearly 50,000 manufacturing jobs. With many aging baby boomers retiring from the state's factories and new skill sets needed in today's automated and modern factories, many manufacturers are facing labor shortages in skilled trades, Rice said.

"Too many people still think of factory jobs as dirty and declining, but today's manufacturing is clean, dependable and highly skilled and it offers real opportunities for good-paying jobs," she said.

Rice said she is eager to work with community colleges, trade schools and elementary and secondary schools to help more students recognize the value and potential of manufacturing employment.

Rice has been a renowned advocate for engaging young students in industrial education and STEM learning, working with Cleveland State Community College's OneSource Workforce Readiness Center and serving as an industry advisor to Cleveland High and Walker Valley High School's engineering programs. In her new role, she will be responsible for planning and directing organizational and programmatic activities for the Tennessee Manufacturers Association under the state's Chamber of Commerce while continuing to teach at Cleveland State and run her consulting firm.

Rice worked at Corning factories in Pennsylvania, New York and North Carolina before being named to head the joint venture of Mitsubishi and Corning, known as Cormetech, in Cleveland, Tenn., in 2012.

"Plant managers move every four to five years, but I really love Southeast Tennessee and want to make it my home," Rice said Monday in announcing her new job.

The Tennessee Manufacturers Association was founded in 1912 and is the exclusive statewide partner with the National Association of Manufacturers. Rice has served on the board of the Tennessee Chamber and the Chattanooga- based Tennessee Association of Manufacturers.

Tennessee Chamber Board Chairman Greg Martz said he is "thrilled that Denise will be joining the Tennessee Chamber," which includes about 40 percent of its members from manufacturing-related companies.

"Having managed a facility in Tennessee, Denise understands the challenges of manufacturers and is uniquely qualified to spearhead operations for Tennessee's premier manufacturing advocacy organization," Martz said.

Rice said she is eager to work with local manufacturing groups, such as the Cleveland Associated Industries in Bradley County and the Tennessee Association of Manufacturers, which grew out of the nation's first manufacturers trade group, the Chattanooga Manufacturers Association founded in 1902 by Captain C.D. Little.

Tim Spires led an effort to expand the Chattanooga Manufacturers Association into a statewide trade group over the past four years, but most of the TAM board and its membership is still from the Chattanooga area.

Spires died unexpectedly last month of a heart attack and it is still unclear who the future direction will be for the Tennessee Association of Manufacturers. TAM Chairman Robert Gagliano of BASF did not return a telephone call Monday.

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 423-757-6340.