It was a year of recovery in Sonoma County, as the economy in 2012 slowly improved. Local employers added workers to their ranks, single-family homes were sold at a faster pace, and foreclosures dropped throughout the county.
A near-perfect North Coast harvest pleased wineries and grape growers alike, and many wineries and vineyards changed hands, as proprietors retired or escaped the lingering effects of the recession.
Here's a look at some of the biggest business stories of the year.
Exchange Bank resumes scholarship
Exchange Bank announced it would resume the Doyle Scholarship for incoming Santa Rosa Junior College Students in 2013, restoring a beloved community program that was on hold for five years.
The bank had been prevented from paying dividends by the U.S. Treasury Department, which loaned it $43 million under the Troubled Asset Relief Program. But the Treasury Department sold its Exchange Bank shares, freeing the bank to resume paying dividends.
"The Doyle's back in business," an ecstatic Frank Chong, president of SRJC, said at the time.
The dividend would provide about $850,000 a year to the scholarship fund, far less than the $5.3 million the college received from the trust in 2007, the last year of full dividends, but surpassing the $668,000 the college awarded since 2009 under its "Bridging the Doyle" program.
"It's deeply satisfying to us as residents of Sonoma County," Exchange Bank CEO William Schrader said at the time. "It's something we're very proud of."
Housing market: Sales on pace for 7-year high, foreclosures drop
Sonoma County homebuyers snapped up properties at the fastest pace in seven years, and fewer homes were sold through foreclosure.
At the bottom of the market, three out of every four home sales involved foreclosures or short sales, where the price is less than the amount owed on the mortgage. But in August, 62 percent of the transactions involved sellers with equity.
"This is what recovery looks like," said Rick Laws, vice president of Pacific Union International.
The trend continued through the fall, when only 8 percent of the 480 single-family homes sold in October were bank-owned foreclosure properties. During the same month in 2008, half of the sales involved homes that had been lost through foreclosure.
In July, 500 single-family homes were bought, a sales total up more than 20 percent compared to a year earlier, according to The Press Democrat's monthly housing report compiled by Pacific Union International.
Job market improves
Employers added a steady stream of jobs throughout the year, and the unemployment gradually inched down, falling below 8 percent to its lowest level in nearly four years.
By November, the county had added 8,300 jobs over the past year.
"This is as steep a descent (in the jobless rate) as we've had in recent memory," said Rob Eyler, who heads the Center for Regional Economic Analysis at Sonoma State University. "The signs are good. They're broad-based. There's not one industry pulling us along, but it's certainly better now than it was 18 months ago."
The manufacturing and construction sectors, both hit hard during the recession, were among the strongest sectors, with manufacturing adding 1,600 jobs and construction adding 1,000 jobs during the year.
"The manufacturing growth is pretty amazing," said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board. "Manufacturing probably has the highest multiplier effect, so it's a real boost to the economy."