Director of Collier County’s Office of Business and Economic Development
Bruce Register, 53, is a native Floridian. He was born in Tampa, the son of a minister.
He is a graduate of Florida State University and has a degree in government and philosophy.
Following graduation, he worked as a manufacturer’s sales representative and commercial account representative before going into business for himself.
He and his brother took some land they inherited and started Dot Walden Farms in the Dover community in Hillsborough County. It is a business he still owns.
Before coming to Collier County, Register worked for Hillsborough County Economic Development since 1996, where he was the corporate business development manager.
Register is married and boasts a brood of cats. In his spare time, he likes to read, fish and play golf.
Bruce Register doesn’t want to talk.
It’s not that Collier County’s new economic development director doesn’t have anything to say. He just acknowledges that his job right now is to listen.
Since starting his job in late January, Register has been doing a lot of listening, both to people he’s reached out to and who have reached out to him. He’s trying to determine where the county’s economic development has been and where it should go.
“I’m trying to be prepared for the unexpected,” Register said. “But I am getting a very strong predictor of where we are today and why we need to address some issues.”
It’s the beginning for both Register and the county’s newly created Office of Business and Economic Development. The office, which now falls under the purview of the county manager, is the county’s attempt to reinvigorate economic development following the September 2011 folding of the county’s Economic Development Council, a public-private partnership.
But it is not just the future of Collier County’s economic development he has to think about.
Register is still putting together his work space, which right now consists of his sparsely decorated office in a hallway full of empty offices at the back of the county’s Growth Management building.
His diplomas hang on otherwise bare walls. A photo of his wife sits beside his computer. He needs to find someone to answer his phone.
He also needs to find someone to take down the sign for the old EDC, which closed its doors amid criticism it wasn’t effective in its mission to diversify the local economy and create high-wage jobs.
Register doesn’t want to get into the specifics of what he is hearing from community and business leaders because he doesn’t want to direct where the conversations are going. But he will say Collier’s business environment is at a point where it’s going to mature.
That means, he said, the county has to revisit whether agriculture, tourism and the service industry can sustain a growing population that wants jobs.
Register said his job is to ensure Collier County has something to offer its residents, whatever phase of life they are in, be it those coming back to the community after college or those planning to spend their golden years here.
“We need to agree on what we all see as a collective objective,” he said.
Not just government’s job
“I’m trying to be prepared for the unexpected,” Bruce Register said. “But I am getting a very strong predictor of where we are today and why we need to address some issues.”
With Register in place, county government is restarting its economic development work, which was split from the private sector following the closing of the EDC.
The Office of Business and Economic Development has to do three things to be successful for Collier County, said Michael Reagen, the CEO of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, who has met with Register.
First, it has to create a climate that lets potential businesses know Collier is open and welcoming to business, he said.
“Commerce has grown with the population and money coming into this county,” Reagen said. “We didn’t have to think of business as a part of our society because it was there.”
It is also important to develop businesses that are already a part of the community, Reagan said.
Finally, he said the county needs to consider reverse investing — spending more now to spend less later.
But it is not just the public sector working on economic development, Reagen said. The private sector has also stepped in, raising $170,000 in private funds to allow the new organization to continue some of the work that was being done under the former EDC.
In addition, the Partnership for Collier’s Future Economy, which is an arm of the Naples chamber, entered into an agreement in September with Florida Gulf Coast University and the Horizon Council, a public-private partnership that advises Lee County commissioners on economic development. The partnership allows the organizations to share information and resources, he said.
“The university is the repository for all data in the region, so that when a business wants to relocate or expand in Collier County, the university is ready with all of the data,” Reagen said.
While the economic development office will see more influence from the county government now that it is under the purview of the county manager’s office, Register said he doesn’t see that move as having an effect on his day-to-day job.
“Economic development will take an integrated effort between the private sector and non-profits and the public sector,” he said. “What degree is that mix will be based on the perspective of the community.”
Part of his work now, he said, is looking for those Collier County advantages that can be leveraged to attract certain industries to the community. Among the things he has to consider, he said, are transportation elements, the labor pool, geographic issues, the right regulations and business mix, among others.
“The financial services industry is attracted to this area because of the independent wealth. That’s a need in the community,” he said. “But those companies need a workforce with banking, with financial expertise. You need those industries that will support that.”
Economic development cannot be driven by a specific focus, Register said.
“We need to maximize our opportunities,” he said. “That means we need to be flexible and adaptable.”
The next steps
One advantage Register has is his knowledge of the state, Commissioner Tim Nance said.
A native Floridian, Register worked for Hillsborough County Economic Development for more than 15 years before accepting the Collier job.
“He’s from the Gulf Coast area and has been involved in Florida agribusiness for some time,” Nance said. “From Collier County’s perspective, I am sure he’s learning each and every day. Almost everyone I know wants to get his ear.”
Register was tasked earlier this month by commissioners to draft amendments to the county’s economic development ordinances, which are set to expire this year, and to include provisions relating to economic development financial records disclosure exemptions.
The financial disclosure exemptions would keep news of a company’s decision to consider Collier County private, with the exception of individual county commissioners and select county employees.
The draft ordinances will be brought before commissioners for discussion and public vetting this month.
There’s also the matter of the state’s economic incentives. While the state has handed out nearly $700 million in tax breaks and cash incentives over the last 17 years, Collier County’s share has been $15,000, or 0.00002 percent.
When asked about Collier possibly increasing it’s share of those dollars, Register said he will “focus on delivering a concerted economic effort guided by the Board of County Commissioners and citizens as a whole.”
“If that includes the approach of using those tools to help stimulate the economy, we’ll do it,” he said. “We are going to use every tool ... to achieve the goals.”
Commissioners Tom Henning and Nance, who have met with Register individually — as all of the commissioners have — said they are pleased to see that Register is working to get community input before tackling some of these issues.
Nance said he agrees with Register’s approach to listen to community members before diving “into the deep end” of crafting economic development solutions for the county.
Nance said he thinks the economic development office will work better with more government involvement.
“Whenever you go into something like this, you have several resolutions and ordinances that govern how you go about that,” he said. “That is the legal framework Mr. Register needs to outline and have in place.”
Register knows what he does will not be perfect, but said the county should endeavour towards perfection. He also said Collier County’s economic development solutions will be long-term, even though the community might see short-term benefits.
“Times change and we have to be able to keep up,” he said. “The work is never finished. We will be working on this issue forever.”