When people think about South Florida’s economy, what usually come to mind are tourism, retail businesses, housing and construction and international trade.
Manufacturing? Uh, uh. Big companies producing airplanes, trains, autos, jet engines, pharmaceuticals, oil products, steel and processed foods … they’re somewhere else.
In reality, South Florida is home to a wide array of manufacturing operations. Small, family-owned businesses with fewer than 25 employees make up the largest share by far. There are also many mid-sized firms and some large companies with more than a thousand employees, such as Beckman Coulter, Sikorsky and United States Sugar. Manufacturers in the tri-county area produce biomedical products, pharmaceuticals, avionics, machined parts, cosmetics, food products, packaging, aerospace components, boats and helicopters. They include names such as Goya Foods, Coca-Cola Bottling, Badia Spices, Cemex, United Pillow Manufacturing, Noven Pharmaceuticals, Mako Surgical and J.M. Smucker.
For sure, the country’s biggest manufacturing centers are not in the tri-county area, or in the state. And some sizable manufacturers with a presence in South Florida — like Boston Scientific, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and Motorola — have had big layoffs over the years. In Miami-Dade, the sector has lost nearly half its jobs since 2000; Broward shed about 30 percent.
Yet, companies are beginning to expand again.
Japanese-owned Nipro Diagnostics, maker of low-cost blood glucose meters and other devices, has been on a hiring spree, adding 58 jobs in its Fort Lauderdale plant in the past year. GE Aviation recently invested $20 million to expand its electrical power-conversion facility in Pompano Beach. Drinkable Air opened a plant to make atmospheric water generators in Lauderdale Lakes.
Aerospace Technologies, which makes window shades for commercial and corporate aircraft, opened a new headquarters in Boca Raton. Diamante Industries invested in a Miami facility to manufacture single-crystal synthetic diamonds. And Goya Foods last year invested $44 million in a new distribution center near Doral to ship products made in Miami to the Caribbean, Latin America and Africa.
“Manufacturing is a small but important sector for our economy,” said Tom Kennedy, president and CEO of the Fort Lauderdale-based South Florida Manufacturers Association. “It is not a legacy sector like tourism, agriculture or development, but it’s in the next tier, producing economic stability in the state and countering many of the cycles affecting other parts of the economy.”
According to the association’s estimates, there are about 5,000 to 6,000 manufacturers in South Florida, of which 95 percent have 10 employees or fewer. Statewide, it’s estimated that there are more than 300,000 jobs in manufacturing out of a total workforce of about 7.1 million. Enterprise Florida puts the number of manufacturers statewide at 17,000.
In Miami-Dade County, there were about 2,600 manufacturing companies as of the fourth quarter of 2011, said Jaap Donath, vice president of research and strategic planning at the Beacon Council, a Miami-based private-public partnership that promotes economic development in Miami-Dade. These companies had about 35,500 employees as of May 2012, out of a total of around one million, he added.