We had the chance to sit down and chat with the new president and CEO for the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce, Chris Quinn. We asked how his work history and career led him to this type of work. He comes to the Chamber with experience in government, trade associations, and non-profits. His work in legislature and working with constituents from varying backgrounds that have different wants and needs is similar to working at a Chamber, with different industries, businesses, and priorities. He says “a Chamber is a little bit like that where there’s lots of different businesses, lots of different industries, and you’re dealing with community issues. Even within a business there are different sections in business, and what’s good for one business isn’t necessarily good for another business, so we’re trying to balance all those. I think that having that work transitioned nicely into a chamber.” He is excited to start meeting with members to find out their different needs. He understands that “what someone needs at the northern end of the county is completely different than what people need in the city. The Chamber is a type of job that if you like change and you like dealing with different things and every day is a kind of a new adventure, the Chamber is a place for you.”
As the president of the Chamber, Chris understands that his job encompasses more than just his title and isn’t afraid to help out by donning various hats for meetings and conferences, communications, and even mass mailings.
Although Chris has worked in Chambers before, he understands that every community is unique. He shares a saying in the Chamber world: “if you’ve seen one chamber, you’ve seen one chamber.” Virginia varies from other areas in that cities are independent from counties, so each of their needs will be very different. Chris shares that “you still have to find what is that bridge between the two because everyone has to work with each other….you have to be a really good listener and figure out what everybody needs and then act accordingly on that.”
Chambers of Commerce serve so many different types of businesses, from the mom-and-pop shop all the way up to big corporations, each with their own set of needs. Chris understands that “not every business can do everything and so the Chamber needs to figure out where those gaps are in the business that we can fill. We’re the extension of the staff that they may not have, and they can use us as whatever it is that they need is: a marketing department, an advocacy department, regulatory compliance department, whatever it might be. Depending on the member that we’re talking to, the different hat comes on, and sometimes that can be challenging, but that’s also exciting too.”
In this time of rapid social and economic change, Chambers of Commerce will need to shift to address changing needs. Chris believes that the Chamber should have it’s finger on the pulse of what’s going on and also be a leader in facilitating conversations. He shares that “we represent the business community, but we’re also representing the community they want too, and so when you look at any type of issue that’s going on you follow the bread crumbs back, they’re all a business issue in some way.” He wants the Chamber to be a convener and a leader to bring people together to have conversations about these types of social and economic issues. He shares that “the Chamber is such a unique group and that we have such a diverse business set and diverse set of people that are a part of it, we’re bringing different perspectives to the table…and [we] bring people to the table to have those conversations.” Chris values diversity of thought and differences of opinions and that Chambers need to be leading in these types of conversations. He says “if you don’t evolve, you wither and die, and you need to be looking at what’s happening and just because that’s the way you’ve done things for years and years doesn’t mean that’s the way forward.”
Since Chris has just recently started in his role with the Chamber, he is concentrating on what’s currently going on and is doing a listening tour with the members. He wants to learn from businesses things they like, what they dislike, and things they would like to see moving forward. He wants to get “as broad of a perspective as we possibly can before we go off and say this is what we’re going to do, because in the end it’s their organization and we want to reflect what they want to do with their expectations of us.” After having those conversations, the Chamber can start to get down to some specific things they might want to change going forward. He wants to see engagement in the community and on multiple levels, “engagement in the policymaking process, engagement in community discussions, engagement with our members individually, and making sure that their experiences they walk away from it is I’m glad I signed up for the Chamber.”
As for hobbies outside of work, he’s a Civil War buff (and especially excited to explore the history throughout the Shenandoah Valley) and enjoys playing and coaching soccer.
We couldn’t be more excited to welcome Chris and his family to Harrisonburg and the Chamber!