My first job in Sarasota as a sun-tanned, 19-year-old New College student was as a cocktail waitress at The Colony, where I served a frozen margarita to up-and-coming realtor Michael Saunders whenever she breezed in. It was an idyllic life. I lived in a cheap apartment on Longboat Key and would often bike to New College in the morning, crossing the Ringling drawbridge into the quiet little downtown. I loved Sarasota's laid-back charm, but figured it had nothing to offer me outside of beaches and piña coladas. So, like most young people in those days, I left for wider opportunities, thinking I'd find an adventurous career in the far regions of the world.

Sarasota has a way of pulling people back, though, (as it did the man I fell in love with and married). And I found plenty of adventures in my career, too, first, when I became a cub reporter for The Bradenton Herald, covering escaped circus rhinos, bar shootings and 4-H goats at the county fair, and later when I started writing for SARASOTA Magazine.

Times have changed. Drive over the bridges into downtown Sarasota or Bradenton now and construction cranes stand like sentries to growing cities. As our population has soared and spread east, we've become one of the fastest-growing job markets in the country, and you won't find cheap student housing on Longboat Key anymore.

The stories in this issue reflect these changes. In "Top Companies" Pat Haire details the tremendous growth in local businesses and their revenues in the last decade, and Anu Varma discovers that our disappearing young people are coming back and making noise.

Do I miss the old small-town Sarasota? Sometimes. It's not easy to ride a bike around town these days. But I love the new downtown I see as I cross the new John Ringling Causeway. I'm excited by the people and businesses arriving here, and I'm eager to report on them and the issues they care about. I'm glad I came back, and I'm prouder than I can say to be editing this debut issue of Sarasota Manatee Business.

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