Economist calls Sonoma County outlook 'fairly optimistic'

SANTA ROSA -- The pace of Sonoma County's economic improvement will increase in the second half of this year and into 2012 with improvement in the state and national economy, according to an economist at a Sonoma County Economic Development Board conference this morning.

"Our outlook is fairly optimistic," said Steve Cochrane, Ph.D., of Moody's Analytics to the sold-out crowd at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel & Spa.

Sonoma County is in economic recovery and faring better than other California counties in terms of job growth and industrial production, but key metrics of housing starts and home prices, which is a measure of household wealth, had little or no growth, he said.

He's projecting 10,500 more jobs in the county from 2011 through 2013: 3,000 this year, 3,500 next year and 4,000 in 2013. But it could take a decade to replace the more than 20,000 jobs lost since the peak in 2007, Dr. Cochrane said.

Following encouraging annual job growth seen late last year, job growth for the first four months of 2011 were "very weak," according to his 53-page forecast, titled "Reasons for Optimism." Job gains in education, health care and retail were almost offset by manufacturer layoffs.

The county's jobless rate, at 9.4 percent in May, won't fall below 9 percent until mid-2012, Dr. Cochrane predicted.

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