It's a bit chilling the way Mike Rowe, the host of the hit TV series "Dirty Jobs," tells it. The headlines scream about persistent unemployment above 8 percent nationwide and 11 percent in California. Count the people across the U.S. who have stopped looking for work or are working only part-time and the rate was nearly 15 percent in June.

Though still too high, the North Bay can be comforted in that it has three of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, 6.6 percent in Marin, the lowest; 7.8 in Napa, No. 3 and Sonoma, No. 8.

But Mr. Rowe argues in a video presented July 19 at the Journal's Top Manufacturers Awards reception that there is an even bigger problem: A skills mismatch. The nation has, he points out, high unemployment and a labor shortage. That is just "weird," he says.

And worrisome.

Ask just about any manufacturing company CEO about their No. 1 challenge and it is finding qualified people. We are at a moment when people desperately need jobs but lack the skills employers need. In just Sonoma County, the manufacturing group 101MFG estimates companies will need 2,000 employees over the next five years as highly skilled baby boomers retire. Another 2,000 to 3,000 jobs could come from growth in the sector. There could be even more jobs generated in the supply chain that serve these companies.

The burning question is, however, can the region provide this much-needed labor force or risk losing employers to competing counties, states or countries that can supply it?

The North Bay is not alone in this challenge. Nearly a third of small business owners nationwide surveyed by the Wall Street Journal and Vistage International, a peer group for senior executives, said they had unfilled job openings in July because they could not find applicants with the right skills or experience.

More than 40 percent of manufacturing firms said they faced the same challenge.

The North Bay, with its world class lifestyle, has an edge in this arena. Through many efforts -- English language training, universities, algebra academies, science fairs, manufacturing skills education, internships, technology education, job fairs for the trades, the new Piner High School science education building and volunteering in science and math in classrooms -- the region's companies, educators and community leaders are making a dent in the talent shortage.

All of this takes time and money. But these programs must continue and grow to close the skills mismatch and build a future that includes the kind of high-paying jobs everyone wants and needs for the region to thrive....

Brad Bollinger is the editor and associate publisher of the Business Journal. He can be reached at 707-521-4251 or bbollinger@busjrnl.com.