Sonoma County unemployment drops to 6.2 percent

Paced by hiring in the hospitality industry, Sonoma County added 1,400 jobs in March, dropping the unemployment rate to 6.2 percent, eighth-lowest among the state's 58 counties.

The local economy has added 7,400 jobs over the past year, swelling its employment base to 191,400 jobs while driving down the local jobless rate, which stood at 6.3 percent in February and 7.3 percent a year ago, according to the state Employment Development Department.

"We're headed in the right direction," said Ben Stone, executive director of the county's Economic Development Board. "I think it bodes well for the rest of the year."

The statewide unemployment rate held steady at 8.1 percent in March, while the nationwide rate remained at 6.7 percent. Sonoma County's jobless rate has remained 1 to 2 percent below the statewide rate since 2008, the Economic Development Board reported.

The hospitality sector — which includes restaurants, bars and accommodations — added 600 jobs in Sonoma County in March, accounting for 43 percent of the county's monthly job gain. Stone said the sector has recorded 38 consecutive months of either steady employment or job gains in a year-to-year comparison.

The county's hotels and motels reported "strong numbers" in the first three months of the year, with a room occupancy rate of 64.4 percent, up from 60.4 percent in the first quarter of 2013, said Tim Zahner, chief marketing officer at Sonoma County Tourism.

At the same time, the average price of a hotel room in Sonoma County rose to $114.47 in March, up from $103.48 in the same month last year.

Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, the county's top-grossing hotel, had a "phenomenal first quarter," spokeswoman Michelle Heston said. Occupancy was up from the previous year, she said, acknowledging that the facility closed off a number of its 226 rooms during a $10.7 million renovation project last year.

Most of the hotel's guests come from outside the county, largely from the San Francisco and Sacramento areas and from Los Angeles, Chicago and the East Coast, she said.

The Fairmont has not hired more workers in the past year, but has added work hours for part-time employees, Heston said.

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