Sonoma County's job market may seem bleak, but companies in many sectors are hiring, according to the latest state figures.

Employment is up by about 2,400 jobs over the past year in business and professional services, health care, private post-secondary education, leisure and hospitality, manufacturing, finance, government and miscellaneous services.

"We're starting to see some aspects of the recovery," said Robert Eyler, director of the Center for Regional Economic Analysis at Sonoma State University.

The new jobs represent a small slice of the county's labor force, which totaled 255,400 people at the end of December. The aggregate number of jobs is up by just 1,200 from a year ago.

Other sectors -- including farming, construction, trade and information -- lost 1,200 jobs over the past year.

Sonoma County ended the year with 10 percent unemployment, only slightly less than the 10.3 percent in December 2009.

"We're not really growing," Eyler said. "There are gains, but not in a wide variety of jobs."

Many of the new jobs are temporary, as employers hedge their bets on the economy's future. "I don't think there's enough business confidence to hire them permanently," said Karen Fies, who oversees Sonoma County's jobs and training programs.

Still, it's a sign of things to come, said Ben Stone, director of the county's Economic Development Board. "Companies are now getting strategic and starting to add people, because they realize better times are ahead," he said. "They want to be ready."

Health care and private education were the biggest gainers, adding 800 jobs. Enrollment at Empire College in Santa Rosa has grown 10 to 15 percent over the past year and a half, as people return to school to learn new career skills.

"It's due to all the downsizing and unemployment," said Hurd. Empire's medical assisting, information technology and paralegal programs are attracting the most new students, and the private college has added staff to meet the demand, he said.

Empire has launched a program with Kaiser Permanente to train students as phlebotomy technicians, who work in medical labs drawing blood for testing or transfusion.

Health care is more recession-proof than most other sectors, Eyler said. "People are still going to get sick."

Some of the jobs that disappeared in the downturn aren't coming back, so people are smart to acquire new skills, Stone said. "That's exactly what they should be doing. We are going to have a new economy."

Health care and private education include jobs at hospitals, clinics, labs, medical and dental offices, nursing homes, trade schools, business schools and beauty schools.

Leisure and hospitality added 400 jobs over the past year, as travel and tourism started to recover from the recession. Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville hired 120 people to staff its refurbished winery, restaurant, tasting room and visitor center.

"We're more optimistic than we've been in the last three years," said Corey Beck, the winery's general manager. The attraction is averaging 300 guests a day and drew 1,400 on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, he said.

Business is good at Healdsburg's trendy new h2 Hotel, said general manager Paolo Petrone. "We did extremely well over the summer."

The environmentally conscious hotel opened in July and now has 50 employees. It's forecasting 78 percent occupancy this year, Petrone said.

Sonoma County tourism is on the rebound, with hotel business up 6 percent since 2009, said Ken Fischang, director of the county's Tourism Bureau. Hotels are hiring and investing in improvements to prepare for more growth this year.

"We are very positive about 2011," said Joseph Violi, general manager of the Doubletree Hotel in Rohnert Park. Doubletree is remodeling its lobby and guest rooms and adding staff.

"We think the growth we saw last year will continue," he said.

The leisure and hospitality sector includes hotels, restaurants, theaters, casinos, amusement parks, resorts, museums and arts centers.

Business and professional services -- including lawyers, accountants, engineers, architects, graphic designers, marketers and staffing agency personnel -- also gained 400 jobs over the year.

Manufacturing was up 300, and government added 300. Another 100 were hired in the miscellaneous services category, which includes auto mechanics, hairdressers, funeral directors, laundry workers, nonprofit workers and parking attendants.

Finance added 100 jobs. It includes banking, mortgage lending, real estate and insurance.

Businesses have more confidence than they did a year ago, Stone said. "There's a realization that we're not going to have another recession," he said. "Many companies are doing remarkably well."

You can reach Staff Writer Steve Hart at 521-5205 or steve.hart@pressdemocrat.com.