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Sonoma County unemployment rate drops to five-year low of 6.1 percent

Sonoma County's unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent in May, as the tourism and wine industries continued to add jobs for the summer vacation season and the coming harvest.

The jobless rate, which stood at 6.5 percent in April and 8.5 percent a year ago, dropped to its lowest level since October 2008, according to the state Employment Development Department.

Business leaders said the data reflected the economic upturn now underway in the county.

"We're getting lots of requests for companies that are looking for talent," said Carolyn Stark, executive director of BEST, or Building Economic Success Together, a local economic development program.

Many businesses have focused on hiring workers with experience, Stark said, a typical occurrence for companies after a prolonged downturn.

"They need people that can pretty much hit the ground running and begin contributing in a fairly quick way to the company," she said.

Of the 10 counties with the lowest unemployment rates in California, six are found in the Bay Area, including Sonoma County, ranked No. 8. Experts see the rankings as a sign of the region's health.

"The economy is recovering much more quickly (in the Bay Area) than in the other areas of the U.S.," said Linda Wong, North Bay labor market consultant for the EDD.

Unemployment soared to 10 percent in Sonoma County in June 2009 and hovered near there for more than two years. The jobless rate didn't stay consistently below double digits until September 2011.

Last month farms and wineries added 1,400 jobs, while leisure and hospitality businesses added 500. About 300 of the hospitality jobs were in restaurants and bars, Wong said. The hiring in both sectors was part of a seasonal pattern.


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