Could Sonoma County really be the 10th worst place for job growth in the entire United States?
Worse than Flint, Mich., which has been devastated by auto industry cuts? Worse than Sacramento, where budget cuts have wiped out thousands of government jobs? Worse than even Stockton, which is on the verge of bankruptcy?
Yes, yes and yes, according to a new study.
The study, published this week by Los Angeles economist Joel Kotkin, identified the best places for job growth in the United States by examining trends since 2000 in 398 communities across the country. Sonoma County came in 389th on the list, down from 357th on last year's roster.
"You have 20,000 fewer jobs than you had in 2000," said Kotkin, a Chapman University professor who collaborated on the report for NewGeography.com, a website that focuses on urban economic issues.
And Sonoma County hasn't seen any job growth since the lowest point of the recession in 2009, he said.
"You did even worse than Fresno and Stockton," Kotkin said.
The report is alarming but not surprising, said Robert Eyler, who heads the Center for Regional Economic Analysis at Sonoma State University.
"It's a wake-up call," he said. "Other communities have rebounded faster than we have."
The report examined non-farm jobs data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 398 U.S. metropolitan areas between 2000 and last January.
Job growth in Sonoma County trailed other mid-sized California communities including Bakersfield, Fresno and Stockton. Ironically, those areas have much higher unemployment, ranging from 15.9 to 17.4 percent in March.
Sonoma County's jobless rate in March was 9.5 percent.
The Central Valley communities were hit harder by the recession, but they're seeing job growth in energy, agriculture, manufacturing and even construction, Kotkin said.
In contrast, Sonoma County has lost 43 percent of jobs in construction, 24 percent in finance, 20 percent in information and 10 percent in manufacturing over the past five years, he said.
"You lost jobs in most categories," Kotkin said.
California lags most other states in job creation, with only Silicon Valley, San Francisco and parts of Los Angeles showing much growth, he said.
California's regulatory environment and anti-growth sentiment are hampering its recovery, Kotkin said.
"You can't have growth if you don't want it," he said.
Construction was a major driver of Sonoma County job growth before the recession, Eyler said.
"Those jobs have not come back," he said.
The county's financial sector was hurt by last year's closure of the State Farm regional operations center in Rohnert Park, said Ben Stone, director of Sonoma County's Economic Development Board. The insurance company, which employed 450 people in Rohnert Park, shifted most of those jobs to Bakersfield in a company consolidation.
Kotkin's job growth study doesn't give a complete view of the local economy, Stone said.
"It paints a challenging picture, but it doesn't tell the whole story," he said.
Sonoma County still has the state's ninth-lowest unemployment rate, he said.
The study doesn't count the self-employed, who represent a significant number of jobs in Sonoma County, Eyler said.
Still, it shows the need for local economic development programs, he said.
"We need to look at what we're going to do here to bring job growth," Eyler said.