After months of anemic growth, the Sonoma County economy consistently added new jobs this summer in a variety of businesses, the state reported Friday.
Unemployment fell in August for the second time in two months, dipping to 8.3 percent, down from 8.6 percent in July, the state Employment Development Department reported.
Unemployment has now receded back to levels seen in May, matching the lowest jobless rate in more than three years. At the same time, the county posted an increase of 6,500 jobs from a year ago, the fourth straight month of such year-over-year gains.
Before May, in contrast, the county had shed jobs in eight of the 10 previous months.
"This is what recovery looks like," said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board. "It's been kind of stuttering at first, but it's starting to take hold."
Seasonal forces, such as the annual return of teachers to school in August, helped push down the unemployment rate. But job gains came in a variety of sectors, including manufacturing, retail, construction, administrative services and leisure and hospitality.
"That's definitely positive news," said Linda Wong, a state labor market consultant.
The county's unemployment rate, which is not adjusted for seasonal forces, remained below the statewide rate of 10.6 percent but above the national rate of 8.1 percent.
In August, jobs in the county's nondurable manufacturing sector jumped 7 percent from a year ago to 12,200 positions. The sector includes wineries, which are among the companies hiring.
"There was pent-up demand," said Cyril Penn, editor of Sonoma-based Wine Business Monthly magazine.
The magazine's Wine Jobs site recorded a 19 percent increase in employment listings in August, compared to a year ago, Penn said.
Durable manufacturing jobs increased 6 percent to 10,500 positions. Such jobs have increased 15 percent in the last two years.
Dick Herman, president of 101 MFG, a Petaluma-based alliance of manufacturing executives in Northern California, said the growth in such jobs is happening not only among larger companies but also the smaller ones that provide specialty work. Moreover, the manufacturers are hiring software specialists needed to program and run sophisticated processing equipment.
"There are more software engineers that work in manufacturing than work in software," Herman said.
Government is the one area of the local economy that is shrinking. Public sector jobs declined 1 percent in August to 24,600.
In an annual survey of local business leaders, 67 percent of manufacturing company executives and 60 percent of those in technology expected to hire more workers within the next six months.
The survey, by the county Employment Development Board, reported local business confidence was at a five-year high. However, most of the 71 leaders who responded thought the economy won't be "back on track" for at least two years.
In Mendocino County, unemployment declined to 9.3 percent in August, down from 9.8 percent in July.
In Lake County, the jobless rate declined to 14 percent, down from 14.7 percent the previous month.
In Napa County, unemployment fell to 7.5 percent in August, down from 7.7 percent in July.
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