To Bruce Register, there is no better job than economic development.
"You want to make a living. You want to have your intellectual curiosity stimulated," he said. "You have to have this generalized, broad knowledge about a little bit of everything. It's a fantastic challenge ... and, at the end of the day, when you are successful, you help people."
Register, 53, is hoping his enthusiasm for economic development will lead to him being hired as Collier County's newest economic development director. He is one of three finalists traveling to Collier County this week to interview for the job on Friday.
Register said his career was shaped by the recession in the 1980s, which was in full force when he graduated from Florida State University with a degree in government and philosophy. Finding it difficult to find a job in either of his fields, he worked as a manufacturer's sales representative and commercial account representative before deciding to go into business for himself.
He and his brother took some land they had inherited and decided to get into agribusiness, he said. That business became Dot Walden Farms in the Dover community in Hillsborough County, a business he still co-owns. But even that wasn't easy, he said.
"We realized to make it work, we were going to have to shift our agricultural focus, which was in citrus, to something else because there was diseases that were affecting citrus," he said. "We ended up leasing (all of the land) out to row crops for strawberries. But it has all been a benefit to my job now, to expect the unexpected."
Since 1996, Register has worked for Hillsborough County Economic Development, where he is currently the corporate business development manager.
One of his greatest achievements was working to help Draper Laboratory locate a research facility on the University of South Florida campus, he said. It's not the biggest project he's worked on, he said, but it's the one he's most proud of.
"I am drawn to the impact our university can provide the community," he said. "It was a way to commercialize the data, intellect and research that was coming out of the university level ... and make the link between professors who might not have these contacts with the professionals who do."
The Collier County job presents a "fantastic opportunity," Register said.
"I am really impressed with Collier County. It's really held it's own in this down economy," he said. "I think it is very much poised for an advance in the coming months and years. You have a cultivated, sophisticated urban presence as well as a rural presence."
Register said he sees economic development as bringing a balance to the community between different interests — urban and rural, and residents and businesses among them.
"I am a liaison between the city government, the business community and the private, non-profit organizations," he said. "It's about cooperation. People are in this together in the community. Cooperation is the only option."
Still, Register said he knows that is easier said than done.
Register is a native Floridian. He was born in Tampa, the son of a minister. He is married and, while he does not have children, he boasts a brood of "cute" cats. In his spare time, he likes to fish and play golf.
He also likes to read. And while he cites Herman Melville and Saul Bellow as some of his favorite authors, he has most recently been reading former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker's book "Seamless City: A Conservative Mayor's Approach to Urban Revitalization that Can Work Anywhere."
"It sounds like a dry topic — urban revitalization. But it's a fascinating book about how he worked to reinvent government," he said. "It's about how he worked with the community to make sure their basic needs were met and that they had the quality of life they wanted.
"It's about making sure everyone has a voice."