Signs of recovery are in the air.
First the state Employment Development Department reported that the jobless rate in the North Bay had dropped to 8.6 percent in July, down from 8.7 percent in June. For those keeping track, just a year ago local unemployment it was at 10.2 percent.
Then came news that home sales in Sonoma County are up this summer. The county recorded 1,541 single-family homes being sold between May and July — the most for any three-month period in nearly seven years.
Now comes perhaps the most positive sign yet that Sonoma County is on the mend.
Exchange Bank reported on Tuesday that it will issue its first stock dividend in five years, opening the door for the resumption of Doyle Scholarships for students at Santa Rosa Junior College in 2013.
It's welcome news, particularly for students who are finding it harder to get the classes they needed, harder to find jobs that will support them while they go to school and harder to make ends meet.
The 122-year-old bank stopped issuing dividends in September 2008 in the face of mounting loan troubles, particularly those related to construction. Records show the bank lost $18.5 million in 2008 and $3.8 million in 2009. During that dark period, the bank received help from the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program to the tune of $45 million.
Given that the Doyle trust is the largest shareholder, receiving more than half of the bank's overall dividend, suspension of the dividend meant Doyle Scholarships stopped being awarded for the first time in the 60 years of the program.
The bank's founder, Frank P. Doyle, set up the trust with the intent that bank dividends would help local students with a GPA of at least 2.5 cover costs at the junior college. Since 1948, the trust has doled out $76 million in scholarships, making it one of the most unique programs in the nation.
But students have been forced to go without during one of the worst economic downtown's in the nation's history.