BRADENTON — Friendly. Honest. Industrious.
That’s what Meredith Hector thought about people here when she first visited two years ago.
“It was ‘Roll up your sleeves, get things done,’ ” said the Knight Foundation’s Bradenton program director in Miami. “Very, very friendly.”
Deeply attached to the community, too, she might have added.
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All those traits helped make Bradenton No. 1 in a Gallup study, “Soul of the Community,” to determine whether the worst economic crisis in decades was a factor in attracting or retaining residents in 26 U.S. communities.
The survey, funded by the Knight Foundation, represented more than 10,000 adults in those communities.
According to the poll, emotional attachment to the Bradenton area actually increased as the economy faltered.
“If people are optimistic and think the community will be better in five years, that relates to a higher level of attachment,” said Katherine Loflin, a survey consultant.
Lyn Lineberger, a lifelong Bradenton resident, wasn’t surprised.
“The economy will turn around. You just have to hang in there,” the owner of Memory Maker gown shop said Monday. “That’s part of the makeup of people in this town.”
The study pinpointed three main factors that emotionally attach residents to Bradenton:
n Social offerings — Having fun places to gather.
n Openness — How welcoming a place is.
n Aesthetics — An area’s physical beauty.
On the downside, residents perceive Bradenton as being least welcoming to college graduates. As for infrastructure, residents ranked health care highest and highways and affordable housing lowest.
Residents also cited unemployment as the area’s most pressing problem in 2009.
Residents in Gary, Ind., ranked lowest in the survey for average emotional attachment to their community.
In the two other Florida cities surveyed, Tallahassee residents said social offerings, openness, basic services, education and aesthetics are what connect them most to where they live.
Unemployment was their chief concern.
In Miami, residents also praised the community’s openness, social offerings and aesthetics as most important. Residents’ passion and loyalty was highest amongst African-Americans in lower-income, urban areas.
Crime and violence was Miami’s chief concern.
In Bradenton, Hector was smitten by the waterfront and how its downtown included the South Florida Museum and future home of Manatee Players. “Impressive for a community of that size,” she said.
Residents also rated Bradenton significantly higher for its parks, playgrounds and trails.
“This is still a small town community — and no matter where you go, you see people you know,” said Gene Brown, a native and vice president for Brown & Sons Funeral Home & Crematory.