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Business Observer Thursday, Jul. 15, 2004 17 years ago

Keeping the Coast Young (40 under 40)

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Today, the Gulf Coast is bound once again to the vitality of youth, and not because retirees from New Jersey are still looking for Ponce de Leon's fountain. The young professional class is here, and it is here to stay.

Keeping the Coast Young

By Sean Mc Donnell

Staff Writer

There is no Florida without youth, pure and simple.

The history of the region is inexorably linked with the desire for it. Spurred by rumors of water that bestowed immortality and eternal youth, Juan Ponce de Leon became the first European to explore the Gulf Coast in the early 16th Century.

He hired a crew using his personal fortune and left behind Puerto Rico, the province he once governed. He was an entrepreneur, and although his venture never did result in the discovery of a magic fountain, Ponce de Leon is still remembered. He founded St. Augustine and, in so doing, took a roundabout path to immortality.

At the time, he was about 10 years too old to qualify for our list.

Today, the Gulf Coast is bound once again to the vitality of youth, and not because retirees from New Jersey are still looking for Ponce de Leon's fountain. The young professional class is here, and it is here to stay. It is the force behind your government, courts, schools, banks, and hospitals. Its actions touch most aspects of your life.

Without the energy and skill of the individuals profiled in this "40 Under 40" issue, and those like them, buildings would go un-built, sick children would go untreated, food would go uncooked and songs would go unsung.

From the almost 100 nominations received, GCBR selected 40 young people from Sarasota and Manatee counties who embody the professional and personal commitment that distinguishes the area's young and ambitious.

This year's list is a dynamic and versatile group.

Some, like Ponce de Leon, came to the Gulf Coast from foreign lands seeking opportunities in the promise of new surroundings. Six members of this year's class were born in other countries, from Guyana to Japan. Another was born in Puerto Rico.

There are also eight winners who were born and raised on the Gulf Coast, and several more who moved here during childhood. This compared to only three native New Yorkers. Never before have local products figured so prominently in a "40 Under 40" class.

The tastes of our winners are as diverse as their origins. If you stole a peek at their nightstands, you would be as likely to see Dr. Seuss as the Dali Lama. One says his hero is Ronald Reagan, and another draws her inspiration from Britney Spears. Another winner bases his life on the model of hockey player Wayne Gretzky (surprise surprise, he's Canadian).

They run the political gamut, as well. One says he has always opposed George Bush's "shaky premise" for war. Another says, "The Iraqis are depending on us and, contrary to what we are led to believe by the media, they want us to stay."

But for all their differences, the young professionals in this year's crop do have a few things in common.

Every member of our list has a degree from some institution of higher learning. Thirteen hold advanced degrees. Two have juris doctorates. One has a medical degree. Three have MBAs. They have studied in Copenhagen, Denmark and Turin, Italy, but more than 35% were educated in Florida. Three of our winners studied right here in Sarasota.

They are all leaders in their respective fields. They have achieved the respect of their colleagues and personal acclaim. One even had a holiday named for him in the city of Arcadia. For most, this is not the first time their work has been recognized, nor will it be the last.

Most enjoy travel. Europe seems to be a popular destination for this group. They also enjoy the many outdoor sports and activities Florida's amazing weather makes accessible to them.

Unlike the Spanish conquistador with an obsession to stay young, immortality is not the utmost desire on the minds of this year's winners.

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