Chris Quinn, the new president and CEO of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce, is on a listening tour as he begins his leadership of the local business advocacy organization. He is pictured here inside the chamber’s Harrisonburg office Sunday.
The new president and CEO of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce wants you to think of one word when the local business advocacy group comes to mind: engagement.
Chris Quinn, 44, took the helm of the local chamber from longtime leader Frank Tamberrino, who retired after leading the group for 11 years. Quinn took over in late April and arrived to the area in late May.
One of the first things on Quinn’s to-do list is a listening tour, which is underway.
“I want to hear what people have to say,” he said. “What do you like? What do you dislike? What are some things you want us to do differently?”
He said that’s the first part of his “open door policy.”
“For me, being the new guy, a good starting point is to get out there and see what other issues are out there and we can get involved in,” Quinn said. “We’re looking to be is having our fingers in as many things as possible.”
Some of those include things often not immediately considered when talking about economic development, such as housing affordability and school quality.
“There are things that could pop up that maybe we’re not thinking about that we should focus on or there’s two issues that we thought weren’t related but they actually are,” Quinn said.
He said the chamber’s members and priorities are not a monolith and sometimes are in direct conflict with one another.
“We should be a convener and be able to bring everybody to the table,” Quinn said.
There is a spirit of cooperation in the Valley that is not found everywhere, according to Quinn.
“For me, no matter what the issue is, if you follow the trail back it’s a business issue — quality of life, workforce,” he said. “We want a great business environment, but we also want everybody that’s living here to love living here.”
Quinn has lived and worked on the East Coast in trade groups and the halls of government.
One of his first jobs was in the evenings for Massachusetts Republican and then-Senate Minority Leader Brian Lees while he worked to get a master’s in political science from Suffolk University. Quinn had previously graduated from the University of South Carolina, where he also studied political science.
He then worked in various trade associations and government affairs groups in Washington, D.C.
“I wore a bunch of different hats — membership, conferences, government affairs,” Quinn said. “And then after a bunch of years in D.C., I saw there was an opening down in the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.”
That job was to start up the chamber’s government affairs operation and is what Quinn has worked on for the past near decade.
But he said he felt called back to membership-oriented work, and that’s how he found the opening at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce.
His wife and two children are still at their home in Florida, but will be moving up before the next school year starts.
And for his role at the chamber, Quinn sees nuance in the way the group will advocate for its members and the community regionally, in the Richmond statehouse and to federal representatives.
“Not everyone’s going to agree on everything, and that’s OK,” Quinn said.
He said letting people know and understand where the chamber is coming from helps keep groups on the same page. So though there may be divergence on one issue, the connection is still open for another where the chamber and another group may be in full agreement of a solution, Quinn said.
“I want people to say, ‘That’s our and that’s my chamber,’” he said. “And we’re representing everybody.”