LURAY — In a sense, John Robbins has been training for his new job for more than four decades.
Robbins, the recently installed president of the Luray-Page Chamber of Commerce, first went to Shenandoah National Park as a teenager with his parents and fell in love with the area at age 16.
“I really used to even wonder how people made a living here. ... It took a while, and I was finally able to do it,” said Robbins, 61, who lives with his wife, Marion, in Luray.
With his new job, which he began last week, Robbins looks forward to contributing to the community and strengthening local businesses, he said.
And he expects his personal experiences with outdoor activities, including backpacking in Shenandoah National Park, will come in handy.
“There’s great personal gratification for me just to be in a job where I can talk about those places,” he said.
Robbins’ first day as president of the Luray-Page Chamber was Jan. 7. He replaced Brianna Campbell, who stepped down in July to pursue a job in Frederick, Md.
Robbins, who holds an English degree from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, has been living in the Shenandoah Valley for about 20 years, including the last seven in Luray.
He’s worked in grant and proposal writing and most recently ran a website for the National Rifle Association about hunting issues.
Hunting, fishing and cycling are his main recreational pursuits, he said — three interests with plenty of outlets in Page County.
“It’s a really outdoorsman’s place to be,” he said.
Tourism and outdoor activities are key to the economies of Luray and Page County, he said, but they’re not the whole picture.
The Luray-Page Chamber has 468 members, and Robbins wants to help them all succeed.
He acknowledges that the county faces challenges, including perennially high unemployment. At 8.6 percent in November, Page County’s unemployment rate is the highest in the Valley, according to the Virginia Employment Commission’s latest figures. The jobless rate was in double-digits at the height of the recession a few years ago, and regularly stands a good 2 to 4 percentage points higher than its neighbors
“I think the whole Shenandoah Valley faces similar challenges. ... The unemployment rate is better here than it was last year,” he said. “That absolutely needs to be better, but this is a longstanding issue.”
But with a high quality of life, a business-friendly environment in terms of regulations, and harworking residents, Luray and the whole of Page County are great places to do business, Robbins said.
“I’m excited to be working with people who really care about what they’re doing,” he said. “There’s a lot of potential [here] and there’s a lot going on.”
Contact Jeremy Hunt at 574-6273 or firstname.lastname@example.org