The recession has charred the local economy during the last few years.
But underneath the dark news of massive foreclosures, high unemployment and record bankruptcies is a small stream of good news that has been gaining momentum.
Sonoma County's tech sector, which suffered its own economic collapse nearly 10 years ago, has been quietly rebounding.
Fast-growing tech companies are now forecast to help rescue the local economy as the sector adds high-paying jobs and attracts outside money from investors, according to a new report by Moody's Economy.com.
"Technology will lead our economy out of the recession," said Ben Stone, director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, which commissioned the report. "It will be a path to recovery."
During the next five years, the tech sector will account for nearly half of the fastest growing occupations in the county, according to the Moody's forecast.
That would be a stark turnaround from the last 10 years, when companies cut more than half their local tech jobs.
The sector's recovery is a classic illustration of how business cycles work, with new growth sprouting from the charred remains of a recession.
The tech recovery incubated for several years, as laid-off engineers from the telecommunications industry began fermenting new ideas, drawing up their business plans, tracking down funding and then launching new companies.
Now those once-nascent businesses are blossoming into established enterprises with fast-growing revenues and rapidly expanding payrolls as companies go on hiring bonanzas.
Enphase Energy in Petaluma, which was founded in 2006 by two former telecom employees, now has more than 100 employees and is being heralded in national publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Forbes for its innovative new solar-power technology. It received $63 million in funding in June and $40 million in March from venture capitalists.
Cyan Optics in Petaluma has grown from five employees to more than 80 full-time workers during the last four years, and is actively hiring for new positions. Most of those jobs are high-paying engineering jobs, which ultimately bring more money into the local economy.
"I think across the board there is a lot of opportunity right now, and we'll see some growth," said Mike Hatfield, Cyan's chief executive. "We've added 25 employees this year alone."
The company sells a next-generation system for handling network traffic to phone companies, Internet providers and cable networks struggling to deliver a flood of digital services. It received $22 million in venture funding in December 2009, bringing its total backing to nearly $50 million since being founded in 2006.
"That's money coming in from the South Bay and investors on the East Coast," Hatfield said. "We are bringing more money in from the outside and spending it here. . . . I know restaurants around our office are happy."
But not all of the tech sector is returning. A decade ago, tech companies not only created new innovations in Sonoma County, they also manufactured those products here. Now companies outsource a large part of that manufacturing to other places, such as specialized facilities in the South Bay or less expensive plants overseas.
"There has been a separation between companies like ours and manufacturing," Hatfield said. "I don't see that changing."
Today's emerging companies focus heavily on research and development, meaning the jobs are often higher-paying and require advanced education.