Ward 7 councilman Stephen McAllister was in Portland, Maine last Thursday before he traveled to Manchester, N.H. a day later. On Wednesday, he’s set to leave for Maryland and Washington, D.C. in his new role at the Eastern Region of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But between those days of travel, McAllister still has time to represent his constituents at City Council on Monday.
McAllister took on his new role of executive director of the Eastern Region shortly after the first of the year. His previous work as senior manager focused mostly on the New England states, but now he adds chambers in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia as places to visit.
McAllister is a Toll Gate High and University of New Hampshire graduate and has worked for the Chamber of Commerce for seven years now. He credits his past and present duties at the Chamber to working under former Governor of New Hampshire John Sununu and former governor of Rhode Island Lincoln Chafee. After working in two of the six New England states, McAllister felt that what he learned made him a qualified candidate for his managerial position at the chamber.
He said the Eastern Region Chamber touches on more a federal level and assists local chambers that may not have the bandwidth to reach that level.
“It’s a big responsibility, but I enjoy the work,” McAllister said.
His job at the chamber is to communicate with large, medium and small businesses to expand business opportunities. McAllister said that 86 percent of businesses in Rhode Island are small or medium businesses. He said that two of their more prominent topics lately are immigration reform and trade.
The top issue in trade that the chamber worked on, McAllister said, was the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) that is being called an updated version of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). USMCA was signed on Nov. 30, 2018 by President Trump, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau but is still awaiting ratification.
McAllister said that NAFTA went into effect when online business was really around, so USMCA allows for a digital economy that NAFTA didn’t have, along with changes like new labor provisions and extended intellectual property.
“NAFTA needed to be updated,” he said. “It needed to be changed.”
The agreement was crafted to promote free trade between the countries, which McAllister said benefits Rhode Island. He said that Mexico and Canada are Rhode Island’s top two trade partners and that NAFTA allows for easier transactions for businesses in the smallest U.S. state.
The Chamber of Commerce also has its eyes on infrastructure, McAllister said. Not only updating roads and bridges, which he said would be crucial for Rhode Island, but also making improvements to ports, airports, sewer systems, broadband and cybersecurity.