A surge in tourism helped to ease seasonal job losses in Sonoma County in July as the county’s unemployment rate ticked up to 4.6 percent, up slightly from 4.3 percent in June but still well below levels from a year ago, the state Economic Development Department reported Friday.
Sonoma’s jobless rate was the sixth-lowest among California’s 58 counties and also below the statewide rate of 6.2 percent and the national rate of 5.3 percent. A year ago, the county’s unemployment rate was 5.9 percent.
Unemployment in the 4 percent to 6 percent range is generally considered “full employment,” acknowledging there will always be some people out of work, said Ben Stone, director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.
“The forecast is blue skies,” Stone said, noting that a gain of 4,300 jobs over the past year — including 1,300 construction jobs — is evidence the county’s economic recovery “is pretty broad-based.”
Four of the counties with lower unemployment — San Mateo (3.6 percent), Marin (3.7 percent), San Francisco (3.8 percent) and Santa Clara (4.3 percent) — have tech-based economies, Stone noted. Napa, with unemployment at 4.4 percent, could be considered comparable because many workers commute to Bay Area tech jobs.
Unemployment normally ticks up over summer in Sonoma County, and July was no exception. School closures for summer break accounted for 2,800 lost jobs. But losses were partially offset by growth in other sectors, including tourism, health care, construction and manufacturing.
Overall, the local economy shed 1,200 wage and salary jobs between June and July, dropping employment to 202,900.
Seasonal hiring in the leisure and hospitality sector, which added 700 jobs, far exceeded the average July gain of 100 jobs in that industry, said Janet Klaven, an EDD labor market consultant.
Fountaingrove Inn, which has 124 rooms, is “nearly full” most nights, said Justin Hayman, general manager.
“We’re having a banner year,” Hayman said. “The economy is great right now; we’re really enjoying it.”
The hotel has added jobs, but still has multiple openings, Hayman said, noting that it is hard to find “experienced hospitality professionals” in a market with such low unemployment.
Sonoma County tourism “has been fairly healthy this season,” with small businesses starting up and established firms expanding, said Tim Zahner, chief marketing officer for Sonoma County Tourism.
Hotels, motels and inns are enjoying an ideal situation, he said, with an occupancy rate of 84.4 percent in July, up 1.4 percent over the year, and an average room rate of $166.31, up 7.4 percent from July 2014 and the highest rate in the past four years.
Unemployment increased across the North Coast:
— In Mendocino County, the jobless rate rose to 5.5 percent in July, up from 5.1 percent in June. A year ago, it was 6.9 percent. The county had 32,600 jobs, up from 32,040 a year ago.
— In Lake County, the unemployment rate climbed to 7.2 percent in July, up from 6.7 percent in June. A year ago, it was 8.8 percent. The county had 16,390 jobs, up from 15,990 a year ago.
— In Napa County, the jobless rate increased to 4.4 percent in July, up from 4.1 percent in June. A year ago, it was 5.6 percent. The county had 76,600 jobs, up from 75,100 a year ago.