Sonoma County’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.8 percent in September, its lowest level in eight years, down from a revised 4.3 percent in August as the local economy continues to show strong job growth.
Local employers have added 5,200 wage and salary jobs over the past year, boosting employment to a record 206,800 jobs, the state Employment Development Department reported Friday.
Unemployment has fallen to levels not reached since May 2007, shortly before the crash in the residential real estate market that triggered the Great Recession. The jobless rate, which peaked in March 2010 at 11.4 percent, stood at 5.1 percent a year ago. Today, the county enjoys the sixth-lowest jobless rate among California’s 58 counties.
“The takeaway is that we are firing on all eight cylinders now,” said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.
Statewide, unemployment dropped below 6 percent for the first time since 2007, dipping to 5.9 percent in September. The U.S. jobless rate was unchanged in September at 5.1 percent.
To get a sense of how much Sonoma County’s job outlook has rebounded since the Great Recession, one might take a look at the job fair being held on Saturday near Healdsburg Square.
SoFi, the San Francisco-based marketplace lender, is hosting the event at its satellite office on Healdsburg Avenue as it looks to hire at least 40 more employees to reach a total of 200 by year’s end. The company has been in the Healdsburg office only since September 2014 and is already on its second expansion, an additional 10,000 square feet above Willi’s Seafood and Raw Bar.
“Even as the unemployment rate drops in Sonoma County, we’ve been very fortunate and are still finding qualified employees,” said Debra Jack, SoFi spokeswoman, in an email. “We’re finding that Sonoma County is full of great talent. … On occasion, we do look out of the area for more specialized positions if the skill set is more difficult to find in the North Bay.”
The county added 2,100 jobs between August and September, largely the reflection of seasonal job gains. Local schools, along with Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University, accounted for 1,600 jobs as classes resumed after summer break.
Those gains were offset by the loss of 800 jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector as the summer tourism season ended.
The strength in the local labor market can be seen in the decline of the number of applicants for Job Link, the local one-stop job and career center operated by the Sonoma County Workforce Investment Board. It served slightly more than 4,000 applicants during its most recent fiscal year, down from 7,400 in fiscal 2012, said Jessica Taylor, manager.
“There just aren’t as many people looking for work,” Taylor said.
Employers in some sectors are desperately trying to find workers, she said. Some poach from others in their sector, while others realize they must provide more opportunity and benefits, including higher pay, if they want to maintain their staffing levels.
For example, Taylor noted that one transportation company was exploring ways that it could hire ex-offenders, a group that typically has been discouraged from applying because of the thorough background checks used in the sector.