Profile: Sarasota, Florida

Brush up on the history of this beachfront Florida city.

Population: 385,000 (Sarasota County)

USDA Hardiness Zone: 9B

Major Airport: Sarasota Bradenton International Airport

Major employers: Publix Super Markets, PGT Industries, Venice Regional Medical Center, Target, Wal-Mart, SunTrust Bank, Sun Hydraulics Corp., Longboat Key Club & Resort, The Ritz-Carlton of Sarasota, Doctors Hospital of Sarasota, Sunset Automotive Group, Comcast Cablevision, Nielsen Media Research

Talk about a county of contrasts. Sarasota might be best known as a city with a wealthy, elderly and conservative population base and for helping to send President Bush to the White House in 2000 thanks to Katherine Harris, then Florida’s secretary of state and a Sarasota resident. But the area’s also home to a thriving arts community and a stronghold for Florida’s burgeoning green movement. It’s a city where the major industries are tourism, recreation and real estate development, but it’s striving to diversify its base.

It’s a county with million-dollar mansions and towering condos along its beaches and bays, and a thriving, walkable downtown Sarasota filled with shops and restaurants. But head east past Interstate 75, and you’re back in old Florida, with acre upon acre of trees and scrub, where a visit to Myakka River State Park will bring you face to face with an alligator, armadillo or anhinga.

Sarasota County is made up of four municipalities with a combined population topping 135,000, plus large swaths of unincorporated areas with a population topping 250,000. It’s not unusual to include neighboring Manatee County in the mix and to talk about the Sarasota-Bradenton area. The vast majority of Sarasota County’s population is white, at 86 percent, and it skews much older than most, with 30 percent of the population age 65 and older. But don’t count out kids, who make up 16 percent of the population.

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