Sonoma County haven for self-employed workers

  • Stephen and Nicki Hinch own TeamLogicIT in Santa Rosa, Wednesday Sept. 26, 2012. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2012

Jayme Powers admits she doesn't "work well at desks."

Powers, 31, this month opened her own business, Sigh, a champagne and sparkling wine tasting bar off the Sonoma Plaza.

A native Sonoman, Powers was working at a winery and a restaurant until she left to launch her own business. She is the company's sole staffer, opening the shop six days a week, greeting customers, paying the bills and stocking the bubbly from both local wineries and producers around the world.

The best parts of her new endeavor, she said, are engaging with customers and "just the independence, knowing that it's mine, that it's my baby."

Powers has joined the ranks of the self-employed, a sizable part of the Sonoma County workforce. Economists and other experts expect more people to join her as the economy improves.

Self-employed workers in Sonoma County accounted for nearly $2 billion of the county's $22 billion in gross output in 2010, according to data published recently by the U.S. Census Bureau.

"What it generates to the economy is serious money and job opportunity," said Gene Fairbrother, a spokesman for the National Association of the Self-Employed in Washington, D.C.

Sonoma County has a slightly higher proportion of self-employed workers than most places. Roughly 35,000 people, or 15 percent of the county's workers, are self-employed, compared with 12 percent statewide and 10 percent across the United States, according to Census estimates.

Precise numbers are difficult to measure. The size of the self-employed workforce would be considerably larger if you include people who work in full- and part-time payroll jobs but also run their own side businesses to bring in extra income. And the Census Bureau cautions that its estimate of self-employed workers in the county could be off by 5,400 people, higher or lower.

The self-employed belong to the larger group of "microbusinesses" that make up the majority of the nation's enterprises. Roughly 55 percent of U.S. businesses employ fewer than five workers and nearly three-fourths have fewer than 10, according to Census data.

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