Unemployment declined in Sonoma County for the third straight month, sinking to 7.6 percent in September, its lowest level since December 2008, the state announced Friday.

The jobless rate fell from a revised 8.3 percent in August, and was well below the year-ago estimate of 9.5 percent.

"This is proof positive that we're in a much stronger recovery now, and headed in the right direction," said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

Statewide, unemployment tumbled from 10.6 percent in August to an estimated 10.2 percent in September, its largest drop in 36 years. A year ago, unemployment stood at 11.7 percent in California.

"It is a significant drop," EDD spokesman Kevin Callori said. "It is an encouraging sign, and it is consistent with the overall trend which is increasing jobs."

Marin County had the lowest unemployment rate in California, at 5.8 percent. Mendocino County's jobless rate fell to 8.8 percent, Lake County fell to 13.4 percent, and Napa County dipped 6.9 percent.

In Sonoma County, the local economy added 2,100 jobs from August to September, mostly in the government sector as schools re-opened.

"Most of that was a seasonal change," said Linda Wong, a labor market consultant for EDD.

But the local economy is clearly in better shape than it was a year ago. Employers have now added jobs for five straight months, compared to levels from a year earlier, following a string of job losses in six of the seven preceding months.

Over the past year, the county has gained 6,600 jobs. Manufacturing, which includes the wine industry, was the most productive sector, adding 1,600 jobs.

"All of our winery clients are just going crazy," said Courtney Dickson, vice president of marketing at Nelson Staffing. "Everything from harvesting the grapes to being in the barrel room to finance and accounting ... it's just been a big year."

The manufacturing jobs were about evenly split between durable goods, such as high-tech equipment, and non-durable goods such as wine, said Robert Eyler, head of the Center for Regional Economic Analysis at Sonoma State University.

"Everything's cooking along," Eyler said.

Education and health services added 1,400 jobs, and professional and business services added 1,200 jobs. Construction and the trade, transportation and utilities sector also were strong, with both adding 800 jobs.

The government sector, however, has contracted over the past year, shedding 600 jobs.

The state's jobs report is the latest sign that the economy is improving. Earlier this month, the federal government reported the U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 7.8 percent in September, falling below 8 percent for the first time since the month President Barack Obama took office.

Employers have been reporting a growing number of job openings, especially in the hospitality industry, said Steve Czegus, manager of Sonoma County JobLink.

"All in all it's looking positive, so we'll just cross our fingers and hope that it maintains this pace," Czegus said.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)