Napa County’s workforce is growing, with more commuters coming from out of the county and wages for those jobs rising, according to economist Robert Eyler.

Eyler, president of Economic Forensics and Analytics and an economics professor at Sonoma State University, presented his analysis of the Napa labor market Thursday at the Impact Napa conference, hosted by the North Bay Business Journal at the Marriott in Napa.

The economist named a number of key trends in the county’s workforce.

To start, the number of inbound commuting workers is on the rise.

“We’re seeing an increase” when comparing the same numbers from 2002 to 2011, Eyler said. Many come to Napa County from adjacent Sonoma and Solano counties, but also Contra Costa, Marin, Alameda and Yolo counties.

At the same time workers are driving into the county, many residents are commuting outbound. According to Eyler, in 2011, about 96 percent of American Canyon working residents were employed outside the city, mostly in Solano County.

In 2002, the majority of American Canyon workers were commuting within Napa County.

While unemployment has been on a downward trend, Eyler said some local hiring is hard to measure.

“There is an influx of workers that work in Napa but are not employed in Napa,” he said. For example, third-party contractors based outside the county that hire vineyard laborers and bring them to work in Napa County can make local payroll data less indicative, Eyler said. Those numbers can be “tricky to track,” he said.

As competition rises for skilled workers, wages are rising in vineyard, hotel and restaurant jobs, Eyler noted. As the economy improves, “expect wages to go up across the board,” he said. In addition, “if there are any changes in Mexican economy or immigration reform, watch out for wages to go up quickly.”

Eyler noted other changes in the labor pool in Napa County. By 2040, approximately 163,000 people will live in Napa County, compared to the 136,484 that reside here today.

That’s a gain of some 26,500 workers over 27 years, or a growth rate of less than 1 percent.

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Napa County’s industrial mix in terms of total employment is little changed since 2000, said Eyler. Labor demand is dominated by six industries: hospitality, professional services, retail, winery, health care and government.

Regardless of the industry, workers overall are becoming more sophisticated and ethnically diverse, and employers are more likely to expect more education from those workers, he said.

The wine industry labor markets are also evolving. The growing trend of wineries selling directly to consumers will impact hiring, Eyler said. Wineries of all sizes need tech-savvy workers to manage new and existing distribution channels and attract customers, he said.

At the same time, winery “leadership needs to change the way it looks at technology,” he advised. With more consumer-direct selling, employees will also likely be more mobile. They also will need to reach a global audience and compete worldwide.

Eyler sees “rising needs for Spanish skills both inside and outside wineries and vineyards, as well as Mandarin and Cantonese in terms of sales.”


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