Americans have a host of reasons to give thanks this holiday.
First and foremost, freedom. That's what America's about.
Today, let's celebrate other thanks on this holiday -- focused on our region.
We're thankful for living in such a caring and generous community. Not only did Manatee County rise to September's Grand Challenge by donating some 43,000 pounds of food in an emergency drive to restock the barren shelves at the Food Bank of Manatee, big-hearted residents came out big-time this past weekend. The fourth annual "Stuff the Bus" drive collected an astounding 130,000 pounds of food -- a whopping 30,000 pounds more than last year. Wow.
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The Salvation Army also appreciates that giving spirit as the agency took in plenty of turkeys to provide its annual Thanksgiving day meal to the homeless and needy.
We're thankful for another year without a hurricane strike in Southwest Florida -- and the entire state, for that matter.
We're thankful the city of Bradenton finally realized a vision created years ago for downtown. Riverwalk has rightfully won over residents and visitors alike with spectacular attendance since October's opening.
We're thankful for the improvements at Coquina Beach, including renovations to the aging concession. With a new wood deck, ice cream station and larger gift shop debuting in May, the beach can compete with Manatee County Beach to the north on Anna Maria Island.
We're thankful for the commitment to conservation that continues to bear fruit across the county. In October, the 32-acre Grassy Point Preserve in Holmes Beach made its debut. Also last month, Manatee County began construction on Conservatory Park on 55 acres near University Parkway and Whitfield Avenue. The county is also forging ahead with acquiring an additional 150 acres to the popular Robinson Preserve.
We're thankful for the October groundbreaking on a major enhancement, the University Town Center upscale regional shopping mall. Plus, the promise of thousands of jobs, $100 million annually in state and local sales tax revenues, and an increase in tourism should spark an economic jolt like no other.
We're thankful for the revival of residential homebuilding, with Neal Communities, Medallion Homes, Lennar Homes and Taylor Morrison leading the way.
We're thankful that Manatee and Sarasota community banks show increasing profits as real estate prices rise and fewer loans become troubled, a sign banking is becoming healthy again -- like the economy.
We're thankful the Manatee-Sarasota unemployment rate continues to fall with October's figure down to 8.3 percent -- a vast improvement from the double digits last year. Hiring is expected to grow through this fourth quarter, too.
We're thankful Florida's economists are predicting bigger gains in 2013 thanks to the strengthening home market, retails sales and job growth as both consumer confidence and business hiring grow.
We're also thankful this is a place with visionary leaders in both the public and private sectors who are striving to improve our quality of life and prosperity.
This Thanksgiving looks like the best in several years.