Unemployment rates across the North Bay dropped to their lowest level since 2008 in February -- in some counties by more than a full percentage point -- as the holiday lull in hiring gave way to positive growth in a number of industries, according to recently released state figures.

The locally improved employment picture mirrored improvements in unadjusted unemployment rates for California, down to 9.7 percent from 11.3 percent a year before and 10.4 percent in January, and for the nation's 8.1 percent rate last month, down slightly from 8.7 percent the previous February and 8.5 percent in January.

Five of the six North Bay counties added 13,900 jobs over 12 months. Job data on Marin County isn't available yet.

Sonoma adds 6,300 jobs

The Sonoma County unemployment rate was 7.6 percent in February, down from 9.4 percent a year before and a revised 8.3 percent rate in January and the lowest it's been since 2008, according to the Employment Development Department.

Phil Vo, career development manager at Empire College in Santa Rosa, echoed the recent improvements in hiring, noting that the college has had more than double direct job placements for new students over the year.

"I definitely feel business is climbing back up," Mr. Vo said. "We've had 65 placements this compared to 30 last year. Businesses are growing."

The county gained 6,300 jobs over 12 months. Service industries were most active in hiring. Bouncing back from post-holiday de-staffing in January, retailers (particularly, food and beverage businesses), wholesalers and logistics businesses had a net gain of 1,800 jobs, over the year, followed by 1,300 added positions over the year in leisure and hospitality.

Mr. Vo similarly said he's seen an across-the-board improvement in hiring, with particular gains IT, the legal industry, hospitality, accounting, business administration and medical.

Other positive yearly gains occurred in education and health services, as schools returned from winter break, and professional and business services, with each adding 800 jobs. Between January and February, a number of industries bounced back after the holiday lull, with construction adding back 400 jobs, while leisure and hospitality, education and health services and professional and business services each added 300 jobs. Over the month, Sonoma County had a net gain of 1,700 jobs.

Solano adds 3,300 jobs

The unemployment rate in the Solano County was 9.3 percent in February 2013, down from a revised 10.0 percent in January 2013, and below the year-ago estimate of 11.0 percent. The county moved up in its statewide ranking, from number to 20 to 18. 

Significant job gains occurred in trade, transportation and utilities, which posted 1,000 new jobs over the year, while leisure and hospitality added 900. Education and health services added 600. Between January and February, Solano added 300 total jobs.

Marin still has lowest joblessness in state

Marin County continues to have the state's lowest joblessness. The unemployment rate in February was 5.4 percent, down from 6.4 percent a year before and 5.9 percent in January.

Industry employment figures for 2012 and the first two months of this year aren't yet available.

Napa Valley gets 3,400 new jobs, state's fifth-lowest jobless rate

The unemployment rate in Napa County slipped to 7.0 percent in February from a revised 8.0 percent in January and below last year's estimate of 8.9 percent. Napa Valley in February moved up in its statewide ranking of lowest joblessness to No. 5 from 7 in January.

Over the year, Napa County added 3,400 jobs, with manufacturing, which includes wine, and leisure and hospitality adding the lion-share of new jobs at 1,200 and 1,100, respectively. Construction added 400 jobs over the year. 

Over the month, Napa County added 900 jobs.

Lake's ranking moves up two places; Mendocino's stays same

Mendocino County's February jobless rate was 9.3 percent, down from 10 percent in January and below last year's rate of 11.1 percent.

Of the 600 jobs added over 12 months, leisure and hospitality showed the best yearly growth, adding 290 jobs, while trades, transportation and utilities added 130.

Lake County showed the most improvement over the year, with an unemployment rate of 14.5 percent in February compared to 15.7 percent in January, and well below last year's rate of 16.8 percent. The county moved up to No. 41 in statewide rankings from No. 43.

Yearly gains by industry, among the 340 net new jobs in the county over the year, occurred in farming, which added 350 jobs, while the government sector added 90 jobs and trade added 20.

California labor market 'surged forward'

"After slowing sharply over the past few months, California’s labor market surged forward in February, adding over 40,000 jobs as the unemployment rate dropped by two-10ths of 1 percent to 9.6 percent," wrote Beacon Economics, which has a Marin County office, in report on Friday's figures.

The year-over-year gain was just under 300,000 jobs, a growth rate of 2 percent, the firm observed. The sectors with the biggest job gains statewide were leisure and hospitality, with 15,700 more; government, 11,200; and professional and business services, 9,400. Contracting were manufacturing, with 3,300 fewer jobs, and 7,000 fewer in trade and transportation.

 Unemployment rates for North Bay countiesAreaFebruary


2013 revisedFebruary

2013State rank

(out of 58)Lake Co.16.8%15.7%14.5%41Marin Co.6.7%5.9%5.4%1Mendocino Co.11.1%10.0%9.3%18Napa Co.8.9%8.0%7.0%5Solano Co.11.0%10.3%9.3%18Sonoma Co.9.4%8.3%7.6%8California11.3%10.4%9.7%--U.S.8.7%8.5%8.1%--

Note: Figures are not seasonally adjusted, accounting for cyclical changes in employment. Source: California Employment Development Department.