Chattanooga Times Free Press

Colonial Chemical trains for the future

Institute preparing pipeline for potential employees


NEW HOPE, Tenn. — A Colonial Chemical Co. official said graduating the first apprentices of a new training initiative is a milestone in the growth of the company that expects to post $100 million in revenue this year.

“It’s always been a dream of our company that we got big enough to really start cooperating with the local community and be seen as a choice employer and choice investor in Marion County,” said David Anderson Jr., the company president, at a plant ceremony last week.

Officials hope to grow the Colonial Chemical Co. Institute in cooperation with Chattanooga State Community

College. Anderson said it can provide a pipeline of trained workers for the company that makes specialty chemicals for personal care products, household cleaners and the metalworking and oil and gas industries.

“It really helps us partner with young, up-and-coming people in the community looking for a good career locally,” he said in an interview at the privately held manufacturer outside South Pittsburg that employs 184 people.

The ceremony, which graduated a pair of apprentices and welcomed four pre-apprentices to the program, came the same day company suppliers worldwide visited the plant.

“Chemical manufacturing is a good business,” said Anderson, son of company founder David Anderson Sr. “I can’t promise every year in it is the best. We have ebbs and flows with the global economy. It’s one of those industries that has always been here, and it’s always going to be here.”

But the company president told the potential future employees that if they stick with the business, “I guarantee you’ll have way more good years than bad years.”


The students are changing their lives for the better, Chattanooga State President Rebecca Ashford said at the event.

“They’re going to start a new career with Colonial Chemical that will lead to prosperity for themselves and for their families,” she said.

The effort started as training for

existing workers and then evolved into the apprenticeships, she said in an interview.

Doug Wynn, the company’s executive vice president of global operations, quipped he has had “a lot of dumb ideas” through the years, but the training program with Chattanooga State is fulfilling.

“We needed a better pipeline of workers for Colonial,” he said in an interview.

Students go to Chattanooga State’s Kimball campus part-time and work at the plant part-time, Wynn said.

While the state offers grants for students, Colonial picks up what those funds don’t cover, he said.

“It’s that important to us,” Wynn said about the initiative enabling students to gain a chemical operator technical certificate in three semesters.

Anderson said apprentices have the opportunity to join Colonial’s operations team and work their way up in the company. He said the company likely could absorb 10 to 12 people a year through the program.

The Colonial president said, like a lot of companies, it’s difficult to find employees and harder where it’s located in the mostly rural area.


“Marion County kind of competes with Hamilton County,” Anderson said, adding there’s a wage and brain drain. “If they really want to move up and make more money and take on more responsibility, they’ll commute into Hamilton County. We’d like to keep people locally.”

Meanwhile, the official said the company is expected to see a modest decline in revenues this year, partly due to customers eliminating excess inventory built up during the recent supply chain crisis brought about by the pandemic.

“Also, there’s some modest price deflation as well,” he said.

Anderson said it feels as if they’re nearing the end of that cycle and getting back to a more regular function of business where customers are making forecasts.

“We’re pleased to see it get a bit more back to normal,” he said. “As a chemical manufacturer, we deal with supply chains all around the world, serving customers all around the world from here. The more predictability you get in that system, the better. Unpredictability is not your friend.”

Anderson said a joint venture in which the company is involved in Saudi Arabia became operational last month, and production has started.

“There’s not much in the way of local chemical manufacturing” in that part of the world, especially Colonial’s chemicals, he said. “It’s exciting for us to be some of the first key investors in the region.”