Sarasota may be the ultimate beach town, with its 35 miles of sun-kissed beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, more
than 200 sunny days a year and an average year-round temperature of 71°F. Yet there
are plenty of other reasons why we named it the best small city. Sarasota County,
which includes Venice, Northport, Longboat and Siesta Keys as well as Sarasota, has its
own symphony, ballet and opera companies. The 1,800-seat Van Wezel Performing Arts
Center lures productions like the Broadway road company of Chicago. The Ringling
Museum of Art, established by circus baron John Ringling who settled in the area in the
1920s, has an extensive collection of American and European art.
Like sports? ;Just an hour away, there's the NFL Tampa Bay
Buccaneers and arena football's Storm.
Sarasota also offers a triple treat: The lifestyle is very affordable.
The schools are outstanding, and the job market is brisk. Sarasota County's
public school students in key grades outscored 95% of their peers in the state.
And perhaps most of all, the city posted job growth of 5 percent in the past year,
ranking it among the top 25 metro areas in the country. During the next decade,
it's expected to see a 30.5 percent increase in jobs, putting it at No. 7 in the U.S.
Many of those jobs are in the retail and service sectors -- Sarasota is a thriving
tourist destination, but there are also other industries.
Sarasota is so desirable that communications executive Nicholas Branica
commutes to his job in Charlottesville, Va. rather than uproot his wife Tonie and his
two daughters, Christina, 11, and Nichole, 8. Branica settled in a six-bedroom beach
house in Siesta Key when he took over Sarasota-based Key Voice Technologies, a
telecommunications firm. When Branca became CEO of another telecom firm,
Charlottesville-based Comdial, he never thought of leaving Sarasota. You can
jump in your boat and drive around the keys to fish or watch dolphins; we can watch
manatees at the beach," says Branica, 47. "You couldn't get us out of here with a
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