New R.I. commerce secretary to be announced June 27

PROVIDENCE – A new state secretary of commerce is expected to be announced by Gov. Daniel J. McKee on June 27, McKee spokesperson Matt Sheaff told Providence Business News on Thursday.

The new secretary will be brought aboard close to a week after Stefan Pryor – who was the state’s first commerce secretary since taking the role in 2015 – resigned June 21 in order to run for state treasurer. Pryor also served as the chairman of Quonset Development Corp.’s board of directors, overseeing the state’s largest industrial park in North Kingstown.

McKee’s office initially stated Pryor’s replacement was going to be announced by June 21 and before Pryor stepped away from R.I. Commerce Corp. However, that announcement was then pushed back to Wednesday morning, per McKee spokesperson Alana O’Hare. Now, Sheaff states the governor will make public the state’s new commerce secretary early next week.

Sheaff denied that there was a delay in McKee naming a new secretary – O’Hare said to PBN Thursday the decision was being “held up” and was unsure why that was – stating the governor is “working on his selection” and “will make the choice on June 27.”

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The current chain of command at R.I. Commerce is President and Chief Operating Officer Hilary Fagan and Assistant Commerce Secretary Hannah Moore, Sheaff said.

“They are still managing the day-to-day [operations],” Sheaff said. “Just because Stefan [Pryor] has stepped away, there is no [gap]. The organization is still on track. Small- business grants are going out. The board meetings are still happening.”

It is unclear if the incoming secretary will be an interim one or permanent, and Sheaff declined to state what the full title will be for the new secretary when announced June 27. Per R.I. statute, the governor must nominate someone to be permanent commerce secretary and the candidate must be confirmed by the Senate. Interim positions don’t have to be vetted by the Senate.

VIBCO Inc. CEO Karl Wadensten, who is secretary on R.I. Commerce’s board of directors, said Thursday said this is “all new water” as Pryor was the state’s first secretary, and the first time the commerce secretary left “to find a political career.” Wadensten also said he questioned at a recent board meeting what Pryor’s plan was whether or not he planned on remaining with R.I. Commerce, especially when former Central Falls mayor and current state treasurer candidate James Diossa has publicly criticized Pryor’s involvement with R.I. Commerce while also being a candidate.

“That was to figure out from counsel, as well as from the governor, if we are doing things accordingly,” Wadensten said. “Things then transpired very quickly.”

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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