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Sonoma County’s unemployment rate in May dipped to 3.5 percent, its lowest level in more than 15 years and another signal of the buyer’s market that has taken hold for local job seekers.

The county’s jobless rate decreased from April’s 3.8 percent, according to preliminary figures released Friday by the state Employment Development Department.

The last time the unemployment rate has been this low was in March 2001, before the telecom crash that caused massive layoffs throughout Sonoma County.

The report comes amid signs that local employers are aggressively recruiting, especially in certain impacted areas such as hospitality and construction.

For example, Calistoga employers last month held a job fair in Santa Rosa with an offer of shuttle service to attract new hires from Sonoma County.

“We have gone from recovery to expansion,” said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

Stone noted that certain industries hit hard during the recession, such as finance and construction, have rebounded. Total employment in Sonoma County increased by 1,200 workers from April to May, to a total of 207,500, with construction jobs growing by 200.

Farm payrolls grew by 1,000 workers in the county in the same period, though Janet Klaven, a labor market consultant for the state Employment Development Department, stressed that increase has been on par with similar ones occurring in the past decade as the grape growing season ramps up.

The county’s new jobless rate is below the state rate of 4.7 percent and the U.S. rate of 4.5 percent. Sonoma County had the sixth lowest jobless rate among all counties in California.

Napa County’s unemployment rate last month was 3.4 percent, the fifth lowest in the state, while Marin County was at 2.8 percent, the second lowest, behind tech-heavy San Mateo County at 2.6 percent.

Mendocino County’s latest jobless rate was 4.3 percent while Lake County also measured a new 15-year low of 5.9 percent.

Locally, Santa Rosa’s 3.9 percent rate was above the county average while Glen Ellen, Bodega Bay, Graton and Occidental all had rates below 2 percent. Forestville had the highest rate at 5.8 percent followed by Guerneville at 5.3 percent.

Given the competitive environment, employers are taking additional steps to attract workers. The North Coast Builders Exchange, a local trade group for more than 1,000 contractors, is working with the Cotati offices of Conservation Corps North Bay to recruit reformed at-risk adults ages 18 to 25 for entry-level positions in the construction trades.

“There is scary demand for workers,” said Keith Woods, chief executive officer for the builders’ group. “It’s moving (from) a problem into a crisis from my point of view.”

Employers also are increasingly realizing that they need to be more transparent in their announcements for open positions, such as providing a salary range and other benefits, or prospective applicants will not bother with a follow-up, said Heather LoBue, business services program manager for the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

“Employers are now just getting that they need to do this,” LoBue said. “If not, you are not going to get them through the door.”

A few industries are greatly affected. Some health care providers are hiring recent graduates from medical certificate and degree programs, where in the past they would require some previous work experience, she said.

“Some will take them from school and do on-the-job training,” LoBue said.

Job Link, the one-stop job and career center operated by the Sonoma County Workforce Investment Board, is sponsoring job fairs this summer, with the next one focused on the health care industry on July 28.

That event will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the JobLink office at 2227 Capricorn Way, Suite 101, in Santa Rosa.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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