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California Wine Country job market reels during coronavirus pandemic

2020 review, 2021 preview

As the “year like no other” draws to a close, the Business Journal examined how the coronavirus pandemic has been impacting “essential” and “nonessential” businesses differently, looking specifically at these areas of the economy:

• Wine business

• Restaurants

• Hotels

• Health care

• Banking and finance

• Job market

And we also explored how the massive Walbridge, Hennessey and Glass wildfires not only worsened the woes of businesses already reeling from pandemic shutdowns and virus-wary customers but also added to the backlog of burned North Bay properties still needing to be rebuilt since the 2017 blazes.

Before the novel coronavirus led to multiple lockdown orders and subsequent job losses throughout the state, employment hadn’t changed much, including in the North Bay.

On Feb. 24 , when Nelson Staffing released its annual Advisor and Salary Guide, the findings from surveys of hundreds of hiring managers and employees in the North Bay revealed an ongoing tight labor market and low unemployment rates that kept employers competing for highly qualified candidates.

For the first two months of the year, the state’s unemployment rate held at 3.9%, with job gains contributing to a record expansion that hadn’t been seen since the 1960s, according to the state Employment Development Department.

But the pandemic ended that stretch.

The EDD would go on to report California’s unemployment rate had jumped to 5.3% in March before spiking to 16.3% in May. From June on, the numbers began inching downward. In November, the state’s unemployment rate dropped to 8.2%.

And so followed the North Bay’s unemployment rates. Of note, Marin County’s figures throughout the year consistently bested its neighbors. The county in April recorded its highest unemployment rate at 11.1% before dropping to 4.7% last month.

Overall, April proved to be the worst month of the year for the North Bay’s job market. The figures unraveled in dramatic fashion, with Napa County recording the highest unemployment in the region, at 15.9%. By November, the county’s unemployment rate had dropped to 4%, in line with improving figures across the North Bay and state.

But since March, Napa County in particular hasn’t been able to shake the hit on its economy, primarily because of significant job losses in hospitality and tourism, the sectors that drive the region. That damage will take time to unravel, as shelter-in-place orders continue to ravage its hotels, wineries and restaurants.

Linsey Gallagher, president and CEO of Visit Napa Valley, told the Business Journal on Dec. 16 that “the 16,000 people employed in the Napa County hospitality industry continue to face furloughs, job loss and reduced hours.”

As such, job opportunities in Napa County have been few and far between, said Nelson Staffing CEO Joe Madigan.

“(We’ve) seen a significant decline in hospitality roles due to COVID-19 forcing the closure of tasting rooms and entertainment venues,” he said. “Harvest employment was cut short by two to three weeks because of the wildfires, so overall employment demand in the wine sector remains down.”

The job market is a bit different in Sonoma County, he noted.

“For example, on any given day, Nelson has over 100 open jobs, primarily in Santa Rosa and Petaluma,” Madigan said, adding average pay rates have increased 18% over the same time a year ago. “So in many ways, Sonoma County is a candidate’s market with many opportunities available in certain sectors,” especially in essential businesses and manufacturing.

Madigan also noted the increase in remote work opportunities this year.

“In our most recent survey of over 200 employers, 75% reported they’re offing more remote work options, and 31% are permanently transitioning on-site roles to remote roles,” he said. “This seems to be particularly true for administrative and customer-service-type roles, and we continue to work with employers who have remote opportunities available.”

2020 review, 2021 preview

As the “year like no other” draws to a close, the Business Journal examined how the coronavirus pandemic has been impacting “essential” and “nonessential” businesses differently, looking specifically at these areas of the economy:

• Wine business

• Restaurants

• Hotels

• Health care

• Banking and finance

• Job market

And we also explored how the massive Walbridge, Hennessey and Glass wildfires not only worsened the woes of businesses already reeling from pandemic shutdowns and virus-wary customers but also added to the backlog of burned North Bay properties still needing to be rebuilt since the 2017 blazes.

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