After 108 years, the nation's oldest local manufacturers association is changing its name.

"It was a long, tough decision," said Tim Spires, chief executive of the Chattanooga Manufacturers Association.

The new name, the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturers Association, will reflect where the group is now and its future, he said.

"We can better service our membership. More folks will be excited about what we're doing knowing we're representing them on a regional level," Spires said.

Dan Nuckolls of Koch Foods, the group's chairman, told its annual meeting Wednesday that it has members as far away as Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Polk County, Tenn., adding the group is trying to keep up with growth in the sector.

"We don't make this change lightly," he said.

Spires said the group will reach out more into Southeast and East Tennessee as well as North Georgia.

Dalton, Ga., companies could join the organization just as nearer companies in the state have, he said.

At the same time, Spires said it will "stay true to our roots in Chattanooga. We don't want to lose anything we've been in the past."

political gripes

Meanwhile, Emily DeRocco, the National Association of Manufacturers' senior vice president, said that while the sector generates much national wealth, it's not getting a lot of help from the federal government.

"Government policies around health care and taxes and the potential action on carbon pricing threaten to increase what is already a substantial cost disadvantage for U.S. manufacturers in the world market," she told several hundred people at the meeting.

DeRocco also cited a lack of coordinated and coherent trade policy and innovation agenda.

"U.S. manufacturers are really questioning whether the government in fact supports the industry that guarantees our economic and national security," she said.

DeRocco said Tennessee is poised to move ahead in bolstering the skills of high school and college students who may be headed into manufacturing jobs.

She said implementing a skills certification system in the state, along with a steady increase in manufacturing businesses and use of Race to the Top funds, can position Tennessee as "a national leader in education reform" and ensure a high-quality work force.