By Eric Gorton, contributor
Never a big fan of sand, the next president of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce is looking forward to relocating from the shores of northern Florida to the central Shenandoah Valley.
“Growing up on the eastern seaboard, I probably can count on my fingers how many times I’ve gone to the beach,” said Christopher “Chris” Quinn.
A native of New Jersey, Quinn, 44, and his wife, Stacy, have spent almost 11 years in Jacksonville, where Quinn worked at the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and most recently was vice president of international affairs for Wexford Strategies, a public affairs and business development firm.
Quinn replaces Frank Tamberrino, who retired earlier this year after leading the Harrisonburg-Rockingham chamber for 11 years. Quinn begins his new job April 29, working remotely until May 24.
At the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, Quinn managed the JAX Alliance, a group of issue committees that advocated for business-friendly policies in Northeast Florida. He also managed multiple political action committees.
Before working in Florida, Quinn worked in Washington, D.C., for the Association of Advanced Life Underwriting, where he was responsible for their industry coalition, the Issues Alliance. He then was the executive director of the DMA Nonprofit Federation, a trade association representing nonprofits and the fundraising community dealing in tax, postal and fundraising regulations.
Early in his career, Quinn worked in the Massachusetts State Senate and has been involved in various local and statewide political campaigns in Massachusetts, Virginia and Florida.
That combination of experience made Quinn the right choice for the job, said Melissa Lubin, chair of the Chamber Board. “Chris brings experience in chamber leadership, both on the local and national levels. His previous roles in supporting public policy, government affairs, industry trade associations and small and minority-owned businesses align well with the needs and interests of our business community. We look forward to helping Chris connect with our chamber membership to gain early insights on how to shape our chamber’s future.”
The opportunity to return to Chamber of Commerce work, along with the right conditions, prompted Quinn to apply for the Harrisonburg job. In addition to a strong business climate and active members, Quinn said he sees Harrisonburg as a good place to raise his son, 5, and daughter, 8.
“This is a place where, we are going to be here for a long, long while and see our kids go to high school, to college. That was the tipping point for us,” he said.
Quinn said he has even met people in Jacksonville who spoke highly of the Harrisonburg area.
“Its reputation all the way down there is very good,” he said.
His first task in his new position will be learning as much as he can about the Harrisonburg-Rockingham community, area businesses and organizations that belong to the chamber and the chamber staff.
“I want to talk to various partners to get a sense of their vision going forward and what role does the chamber play in all of that? It’s their chamber,” he said. “I want to know what they want to see in the next five to 10 years.”
The benefits of belonging to the chamber are many, Quinn said.
“We’re that extra hand or that extra staff that they maybe can’t focus on,” he said. “They’re working on the day-to-day things to keep their lights on, to pay their bills, making sure they’re getting their product to market. There are certain things that they just can’t focus on. We’re their PR/marketing department, advocacy staff, you name it. We are whatever you’re lacking, that’s the gap that we fill.”
Quinn became interested in advocacy work while working in the Massachusetts legislature. “You learn pretty quickly when you are advocating for your constituents, you’re trying to get anything done to help the businesses grow, to help your community grow, trying to help them navigate whatever the rules and regulations might be to the best benefit to them. The advocacy bug bit me there.”
That interest continued to develop as he moved into chamber work and saw how they benefit their communities, even if those efforts were not visible beyond the chamber walls.
“Some of it’s not always out front, some of it is behind the scenes that no one else knows about, but your organization was a part of it or you happened to be a part of it, whether it’s downtown development or infrastructure improvements or whatever it might be, you can say, ‘But for my efforts there, this may not have happened.’ And that’s kind of a proud thing to have.”
Quinn also says the forward-thinking, strategy work keeps him going. “It’s never monotonous. You’re always thinking, what type of things do we need to work on today. … You’re looking down the road and that’s exciting because you can kind of see some of the future coming into the area and what the area maybe looks like in 10 years or 20 years.”
When he’s not working, Quinn said he spends a lot of time chauffeuring his son and daughter to various activities. He’s also a big soccer fan and enjoys coaching youth soccer.
“I still play when my legs will let me play,” he said.
The family enjoys hiking and sightseeing and is looking forward to exploring the Shenandoah Valley, Quinn said. He’s also a Civil War enthusiast and plans to tour the region’s battlefields and other historic sites.
As for going to the beach, Quinn said the family may go now and then, but, “I’m just as happy to sit by the side of the pool.”
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