Santa Maria is a municipality in the central region of Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state of Brazil. Santa Maria is the 5th biggest municipality in the state, and the largest in its micro-region. Santa Maria is often referred to as the "heart of Rio Grande" (from Portuguese: "Coração do Rio Grande"), because the city is located in the geographical centre of the State.
The economy is based on services, industry, government services, and agriculture. In 2006, there were 934 transformation industries employing 6,344 workers. Commerce employed 12,180 workers, public administration employed 4,783 workers, the health sector employed 3,799 workers, and education employed 6,362 workers. In the agricultural sector, there were 2,335 establishments employing 7,000 workers. The main activities are cattle raising with over 100,000 head in 2006, and growth of rice, corn, soybean, and wheat.
Transportation Santa Maria is a major highway and railroad hub. The city has a strategic location in connecting Brazil to other Mercosul countries, mainly through the following highways:
BR-158 – connects Santa Maria to northern and south-western Rio Grande do Sul, allowing access to Uruguaiana, in the Argentine border, and to Rivera, Uruguay.
BR-287 – east-west highway, connecting the city to the capital of the state, Porto Alegre.
Railways are used for cargo transportation, mainly of agricultural products, automobile parts and food.
Santa Maria is 110 kilometres (68 mi) away from the River Terminal of Cachoeira do Sul, which allows ship transport until the port of Porto Alegre through the Jacuí River, and from there to the Atlantic Ocean, through the Lagoa dos Patos.
Santa Maria Airport is located 12 km (7.5 mi) away from downtown, in the neighbourhood of Camobi. It has capacity for large airplanes and offers daily flights to Porto Alegre, Santo Ângelo and Uruguaiana. Santa Maria Air Force Base - ALA4, one of their most important bases of the Brazilian Air Force, is located in Santa Maria and shares some facilities with the airport.
Santa Maria has a population of over 283,677 people.