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Sonoma County's jobless rate unchanged

Published: Friday, November 16, 2012 at 10:24 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 16, 2012 at 6:33 p.m.

Job growth accelerated in October for the third straight month in Sonoma County, where the local economy has now created 9,200 jobs over the past year, the state reported Friday.

The job growth figures — the largest year-over-year gains in more than a decade — are the latest evidence the local economy is slowly strengthening, said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

“Our recovery has been gradual. It's been picking up speed over the last few months and I think there's generally more confidence now,” Stone said.

Overall, there were 185,000 wage and salary jobs in the county, the highest number since December 2008, the state Employment Development Department reported.

Unemployment remained flat at 7.6 percent in October, unchanged from a month ago but well below last year's estimate of 9.3 percent.

“This is as steep a descent (in the jobless rate) as we've had in recent memory,” said Rob Eyler, who heads the Center for Regional Economic Analysis at Sonoma State University. “The signs are good. They're broad-based. There's not one industry pulling us along, but it's certainly better now than it was 18 months ago.”

Locally, the greatest growth was in the manufacturing sector, which added 1,500 jobs compared to a year ago. The growth also was strong among durable goods, which include computers and electronics and grew 8.3 percent over the year, and non-durable goods like wine, which grew 6.1 percent over the year.

“The manufacturing growth is pretty amazing,” Stone said. “Manufacturing probably has the highest multiplier effect, so it's a real boost to the economy.”

Manufacturing jobs tend to have good salaries and benefits, and bring additional money from outside the county as goods like wine and technology products are sold, he said.

Private education and health services added 1,400 jobs over the year, while trade, transportation and utilities, as well as business and professional services, each added 1,300. Leisure and hospitality added 1,100 jobs compared to a year ago. The government sector added 1,100 jobs over the year, with the most jobs added in local education.

“The passage of Proposition 30 helps keep those jobs solid in education,” Stone said, referring to the tax measure approved by voters earlier this month.

Sonoma County JobLink, which provides training, job listings and other employment assistance, is still busy with job seekers, said manager Steven Czegus.

“The fact that the unemployment percent stayed the same really doesn't concern me, when you see that employment went up,” Czegus said.

Some employers may be concerned about the nation going over the so-called “fiscal cliff,” the tax increases and spending cuts that could be triggered if Congress doesn't reach agreement by the end of the year on how to reduce the nation's deficit. But local economists said they believe that a deal will be struck to avert catastrophe.

“I believe personally that we're going to see some deal get made, that the tax cuts won't go away completely, that they'll be phased out, and government spending will continue to slowly descend rather than quickly descend,” Eyler said.

Even so, the national economic uncertainty may make some executives more cautious about spending.

“If you're in the technology business, or one that's capital intensive, you're probably thinking twice about making a capital purchase, because tax rates are going up,” Eyler said.

Statewide, California's unemployment rate decreased to 10.1 percent in October, down from 10.2 percent in September. The U.S. unemployment rate increased in October to 7.9 percent.

Marin County continued to have the lowest unemployment rate in the state, at 5.8 percent. By contrast, Lake County ranked 49th in the state, with a jobless rate of 13.8 percent, up from 13.4 percent in September. In Mendocino County, the jobless rate dipped to 8.7 percent, down from 8.8 percent in September. In Napa County, unemployment stood at 6.9 percent, unchanged from September.

“Even on a sunny day there's usually a cloud somewhere,” Stone said. “But I think right now we're certainly bathed in some good sunlight.”

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