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Job fair held at Napa Valley College Upvalley campus

Representatives of 20 local businesses, including André Pichly, director of St. Helena’s Parks & Recreation Department, right, attended a recent job fair held at the Upper Valley Campus of Napa Valley College.

Finding workers to fill Napa Valley jobs is getting harder and harder. The county’s unemployment rate sank again to at least a 29-year-low – 2.2 percent – in September. That’s just months after the June jobless rate set what was then an all-time low of 2.3 percent.

The data is according to new numbers released Friday by the state Employment Development Department.

An estimated 300 more workers found jobs this September, compared to September one year ago, said the EDD. The number of unemployed fell from 1,900 to 1,600 year over year. At the same time, the number of locals in the labor force remained the same: 76,100 people.

“Napa’s employers are desperate to fill vacant jobs and there are plenty of them,” said a recent video from the Workforce Alliance of the North Bay. The agency includes a network of career centers, employment and training initiatives, and programs for workers and employers in the North Bay.

Napa needs workers,” said the Workforce Alliance video, which was posted to its Bright Futures Career Video Library in August. In fact, “the lack of employees threatens to undercut any future economic growth,” said the narrator.

“It’s a market for job seekers,” said Bruce Wilson, executive director for the Workforce Alliance of the North Bay.

The challenge is that “Our employers are competing for a very limited supply of people,” he said. “There are only so many bodies right now.”

Napa Mayor Jill Techel, who was interviewed in the video, pointed out that development in Napa during the Great Recession was greatly curtailed.

“We lost a whole decade of people” who would have normally been hired and trained to work in those new projects, said Techel. “That’s part of the challenge now; getting that workforce back.”

Rob Eyler, a Sonoma State professor and economist, was also interviewed in the video. He said that when unemployment gets so low, employers “are often struggling to find anybody who meets the minimum qualifications” for the jobs they have open.

To Wilson, that means employers “have to be competitive in the way they find that limited supply of people.” Think outside the box, he said. For example: consider nontraditional sources of workers.

Those with disabilities, people that have been a part of the justice system and youth with no work experience are unemployed at a higher rate than other folks, noted Wilson.

“Employers need to have an open mind to hiring these higher unemployed groups and have training programs and support systems internally that can bring them on,” said Wilson. “Those that are creative in their hiring practices” will benefit.

Employers should work with community support partners like the Workforce Alliance’s CareerPoint North Bay, Napa Valley College and Napa Valley Support Services, urged Wilson. “They have resources to help.”

The low unemployment isn’t a harbinger of doom, said Techel.

“Napa has good challenges,” the mayor said. “When I started as mayor downtown was dead. There wasn’t much action. We’ve come a long way.”

“Napa has some big questions it needs to answer,” such as housing, commuting and the availability of workers said Eyler. “There is no magic silver bullet that solves those issues.”

But when it comes to building a world-renowned brand, “Napa is an amazing story,” Eyler said.

“If you travel around Europe or Asia, everyone knows where Napa is,” said Eyler. It’s not the same for Sonoma, for example.

According to Eyler, “Where Napa tripped over its shoelaces is not seeing the growth for the speed in which it came,” and is now dealing with traffic, low unemployment and the high cost of living.

According to Techel, Napa’s success comes from having “a really exceptional product and experience and in order to do that you need a really exceptional workforce.” And for that workforce to be successful, those employees need to live in places offering a good quality of life.

Then, “it can all work together,” she said.

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You can reach Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or jhuffman@napanews.com

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