“The Bradenton Area on Florida’s West Coast used to be a well-kept secret, but not anymore,” said Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation. “Working professionals and young families are rapidly discovering the live-work-play combination they desire in this community that offers incredible natural assets, excellent career opportunities, and vibrant town centers.”
Located south of Tampa Bay and north of Sarasota, the Bradenton Area includes the nine communities of Manatee County — Anna Maria, Bradenton, Bradenton Beach, Ellenton, Holmes Beach, Lakewood Ranch, Longboat Key, Palmetto, and Parrish.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, following the pandemic, the nation’s employment levels recovered in August 2022, while the State of Florida fared better than the rest of the country with recovery in October 2021. Manatee County’s recovery in June 2021 preceded both Florida and the nation.
“The Bradenton Area’s job recovery a full year ahead of the rest of the country demonstrates the business friendly environment that new and expanding businesses appreciate in our community,” Hillstrom said. “We also are attracting the talent to fill those positions.”
“The Bradenton Area’s job recovery a full year ahead of the rest of the country demonstrates the business friendly environment that new and expanding businesses appreciate.”
— Sharon Hillstrom, Bradenton Area EDC
While 15 Florida counties lost population between 2010 and 2021, Manatee County was in the top 10 for population growth rate. The developers of Lakewood Ranch, a rapidly growing master-planned community, recently reported on in-migration for 2021 and 2022. The community’s top feeder markets were the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and California.
Floridians account for more in-migration than out-of-staters at Lakewood Ranch because the households moved to Florida within the past two years and were renting in surrounding counties, according to Lakewood Ranch staff. They chose Lakewood Ranch when they were ready to buy a home, largely for the schools. Interestingly, Lakewood Ranch is seeing multi-generational moves with young families including seniors in their living arrangement — a trend worth watching, Hillstrom says.
The experience of Lakewood Ranch exemplifies the draw of distinct communities throughout Manatee County, which offer a variety of housing options, recreational amenities and schools.
Highly rated public schools foster career-focused pathways from K-12 to higher education in Manatee County. The school district’s K-12 STEM programs offer students the ability to learn coding skills, engage in robotics, solve real world problems, and acquire computer technology skills. Competitions — such as STEM Fair and VEX IQ Robotics — serve to enhance teamwork and collaboration, support a growth mindset, and improve data analysis. Competitions also assist in developing problem-solving skills and building confidence while getting students motivated and engaged.
College preparatory schools and private schools, like world-renowned sports training destination IMG Academy, extend throughout the region. Post-secondary institutions include Manatee Technical College; State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, a regional campus of the University of South Florida; the University of Florida’s engineering campus, Innovation Station; the globally recognized Ringling College of Art + Design; LECOM Dental School and Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine.
“The Bradenton Area is a model multi-generational community,” Hillstrom said. “Vibrant town centers like Bradenton’s downtown and Village of the Arts offer events and activities that appeal to the young and young-at-heart. For example, the annual Bradenton Blues Festival has become one of the top blues events in the nation. Additionally, the area’s sports events draw thousands of competitors and spectators to venues across the county.”
Nature lovers are attracted to Manatee County’s 27 miles of beaches, 33 parks and 30,000 acres of conservation lands that are managed for preservation and passive recreation, Hillstrom said. The county offers a handy interactive map to help visitors find their slice of paradise. Another popular outdoor recreational attraction, the Bradenton Riverwalk, extends along the Manatee River from downtown eastward to the Manatee Village Historical Park. And the historic fishing village of Cortez provides a glimpse into the world of commercial fleet fishing, along with authentic, local eateries.
“I tell professionals looking to relocate here: Whether you love nature preserves with miles of biking trails, vibrant communities teeming with public art and free concerts, or sports programs from Little League to Pittsburgh Pirates spring training and the Minor League Bradenton Marauders, the Bradenton Area offers a small-town vibe with an excellent opportunity to raise a family and pursue your career,” Hillstrom concluded.