Sonoma County fared worse than most other areas of the state and nation during the depths of the recession in 2009, according to new data from U.S. economic analysts.
The county's $20 billion economy shrank 3.7 percent between 2008 and 2009, compared to 2.4 percent for all metropolitan areas.
That put Sonoma County among some of the hardest-hit regions in the country, including Flint, Mich., Youngstown, Ohio and California's Central Valley.
Some local economists said they were surprised by Wednesday's report from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
"I can't believe we were worse than Riverside and San Bernardino," said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.
The county's job market held up better than other parts of California during that time, he said, with only 10 counties reporting lower unemployment rates.
But the new data show how some sectors of the economy, led by construction, dragged down Sonoma County's overall output.
"We lost 40 percent of the jobs in construction," Stone said.
The study examined gross domestic product, the value of goods and services produced by a particular region. It found 80 percent of 366 U.S. metropolitan areas suffered a decline in 2009.
But only 61 areas saw a deeper drop than Sonoma County, according to the report. After removing the impact of inflation, Sonoma County's gross domestic product fell from $20.4 billion to $19.6 billion in 2009.
The hardest-hit areas were clustered in midwestern industrial states, the mid-south, Florida and parts of California, Nevada and Arizona.
Sonoma County saw a sharper dip because it had a super-heated real estate market before the recession, said Robert Eyler, director of the Center for Regional Economic Analysis at Sonoma State University.
"A lot of the economic activity before 2008 was wrapped up in construction and real estate," he said. "When they slammed on the brakes simultaneously, incomes started falling."
The economic output of the construction sector tumbled almost 18 percent in 2009, according to the federal study.
Other parts of the county economy took a hit in 2009 as the national recession curtailed demand for high-end wines, luxury hotel stays and the latest technology, according to Eduardo Martinez, senior economist at Moody's Economy.com, who tracks local business trends.
The county's trade sector, which includes wine and technology exports, saw its economic output fall 11 percent, according to the U.S. data.
"People scaled back their purchases," Martinez said. "It would have an effect on luxury offerings."
The hospitality and retail sectors both fell about 6 percent. Business and professional services dropped almost 10 percent as companies needed fewer attorneys, accountants, architects and engineers, Martinez said.
"They really took it on the chin," he said.
Many companies scaled back on capital investment in 2009, said Sarah Deming, research director for the county economic board.
"Industries weren't investing in buildings and upgrades, the things that actually grow your company," she said.
The county's economy has improved since 2009, but growth is still sluggish, said Eyler, who will release a new forecast this morning at an annual SSU economic conference.
"It's not surging by any means," he said. "The key now is how the housing market recovers."
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