Sonoma County unemployment rate falls to 7.3 percent
Published: Friday, April 19, 2013 at 10:11 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 19, 2013 at 4:34 p.m.
The unemployment rate in Sonoma County fell to 7.3 percent in March and employers continued to add jobs as the region prepared for an influx of tourists.
The county’s jobless rate was down from a revised 7.6 percent in February, the state Employment Development Department reported on Friday.
Employers added 700 jobs in Sonoma County between February and March, the 10th straight month of job growth. A total of 178,000 people were employed in March, a gain of 7,000 jobs from a year ago.
“The trajectory of the unemployment reduction is becoming more steep, more aggressive,” said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board. “That is good news. It shows we’re continuing to see the economic recovery and jobs returned.”
As the region headed into the spring and summer tourism seasons, the leisure and hospitality sector added 300 jobs in March, the largest gain of any sector. Hotels, restaurants and bars have now added 1,400 jobs over the past year.
The uptick in tourism-related hiring is happening earlier than usual, Stone said.
“I think it’s significant that we’re seeing increases in March in tourism, leisure and hospitality,” Stone said. “People are dining out, so jobs are coming back there.”
At Vintner’s Inn and its restaurant, John Ash & Co., bookings for corporate events are up about 20 percent compared to last year, and wedding event bookings are up by 15 percent, said Percy Brandon, general manager.
“We definitely see that people are a little bit more willing to splurge,” Brandon said.
The company plans to hire about 15 employees, mostly chefs, a 10 percent staff expansion.
Professional and business services added 200 jobs last month, and the construction industry, health services, and government each added 100 jobs.
The gain in professional and business service jobs was better than that sector’s 10-year average, said Linda Wong, North Bay labor market consultant with the EDD.
Local manufacturing companies, however, have shed 100 jobs over the past year. Rob Eyler, director of Sonoma State University’s Center for Regional Economic Analysis, called that drop minor.
“On the pessimistic side you could make the case that orders are dropping ... but since most of that is in the wine industry they may have just over-hired,” Eyler said.
All around the North Coast unemployment rates fell.
Marin County’s rate dropped to 5.2 percent in March, down from 5.4 percent in April. Napa County’s rate fell to 6.7 percent from 7 percent; Mendocino County’s fell to 9 percent from 9.4 percent; and Lake County’s rate fell to 14 percent from 14.5 percent.
Over the last year, unemployment has declined in Sonoma County from 9.4 percent a year ago to 7.3 percent today, which roughly translates into a GDP growth rate of 4 percent over the year, Eyler said. He attributes the growth, in part, to Sonoma County BEST, the group that works to attract businesses to relocate or expand in Sonoma County.
“Sonoma County has become more overt in trying to attract business,” Eyler said. “If you’re having growth that’s somewhat intensified, and you have economic development efforts taking place, it’s likely that it’s connected. I think those efforts have been strong.”
Statewide, unemployment decreased to 9.4 percent in March,continuing a steady decline as the state pulls itself out of recession. California has added 286,000 jobs in the past 12 months, including 25,500 jobs in March.
The national unemployment rate also decreased in March, to 7.6 percent.
Local economists say they expect the positive trend to continue.
“I would be shocked if we didn’t continue to see growth,” Eyler said. “I don’t see anything changing. I think things are going to continue to grow in California and Sonoma County.”