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Sonoma County job market showing signs of life in certain sectors

  • Stacey Washington, middle, attempts to dislodge air bubbles from of a syringe as she practices giving a shot to fellow student Amanda McCown at Empire College, Thursday Jan. 20, 2011 in Santa Rosa. Supervising is lab assistant Ruth Rees, left. At right background is Michele Currin, a phlebotomy student. While some sectors of Sonoma County business is flat, the medical field is one that is hiring. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2011

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.


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