Small-town Plant City draws national political attention
Plant City might like its small-town appeal, but it is attracting some national exposure as the subject of a feature by National Public Radio. The Tampa Bay area knows the community more for its strawberries and annual festival, but to state and national politicians the Plant City area is one of the must-stops in the Interstate 4 battleground from Tampa to Orlando. "If one (candidate) stops there and the other one doesn't, then the one that goes there will put it in their mailers: 'I stopped here, but my opponent did not,' " University of South Florida political scientist Susan MacManus told NPR. "It's still got the nostalgic feel of old Florida, but the economic realities of a changing Florida, with more people moving there and industry diversifying. It's kind of a nice blend of the old and the new."NPR described candidates who get off a bus in the quaint downtown east of Tampa, eat barbecue and shake hands in the city. The city has more than doubled its population from the 17,000 residents in 1980, but Mayor Michael Sparkman, whose roots go back five generations, recalled an older Plant City. Plant City remains a small town despite the growth, and Sparkman told NPR the residents like it that way. "We've liked our growth until this point. It's been good, effective, and it's been conservative," he said. "I think we'll still want to be independent and conservative going forward."