Seamstresses stitch Chantilly lace onto stretch satin fabric. Hand finishers apply crystals to silk organza gowns. Pattern makers cut shapes onto crisp, brown paper, for what will become fall cocktail dresses.
As sewing machines whir, designer Rene Ruiz moves through the rows of tables, checking a sleeve here, an appliqué there, at his new 10,000-square-foot factory in Hialeah.
Rather than following the lead of most clothing makers who manufacture in Asia, Ruiz has expanded his production here at home, creating new jobs and boosting manufacturing — and the economy — in Miami-Dade County.
“It’s great to be manufacturing here in Hialeah and providing jobs,” Ruiz said as he walked the factory floor.
Ruiz, a high-profile fashion designer whose evening dresses sell for $700 to $10,000, is at the forefront of a nascent trend. After losing manufacturing jobs for decades, Miami-Dade is seeing an uptick, particularly for highly skilled, specialized manufacturing workers, said Jaap Donath, senior vice president of research and strategic planning for the Beacon Council.
“It speaks to Miami-Dade’s strength as a creative design hub,” said Pamela Fuertes, the Beacon Council’s vice president of international economic development programs. “It complements what we have been doing in terms of promoting Miami as a place for fashion companies to do business.”
In addition to Ruiz, other apparel designers also manufacture in Miami-Dade, including Eberjey, Bogosse, Peace Love World and Liancarlo. And during the past year, Saint George Industries opened a manufacturing operation in Hialeah, making apparel, outer shells for bulletproof vests and slip covers.
“Hialeah used to be the Mecca for the apparel industry — that was 10 or 20 years ago, and then they started taking production overseas to the Dominican Republic and then to China and the rest of Asia,” said Mario Arus, executive director for Hialeah Dade Development, an economic development agency funded by the county. “Now, little by little they are coming back to Hialeah.”
While local manufacturers can’t compete on cost when it comes to mass market clothing made in countries like Bangladesh, where the average wage for garment workers is less than 30 cents an hour, local companies offer value when it comes to highly skilled labor and food products, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and bio-medical manufacturing.
And it’s not just apparel that is expanding here; other types of manufacturing are also on the rise in Miami-Dade. Last year, Nutri-Force Nutrition opened a $13 million vitamin plant in Miami Lakes, with plans to add 400 jobs over a three-year span. Tierra Nueva Fine Cocoa also recently added a chocolate-making plant in Miami Gardens, with about 50 employees.
And after winning a Miami-Dade Transit award to build 136 Metrorail cars, Italian rail car manufacturer AnsaldoBreda plans to start building a plant in Miami-Dade this fall. By spring 2015 the company expects to open a regional headquarters to try to boost business in the Americas, said AnsaldoBreda president Giancarlo Fantappié, based at the company’s U.S. headquarters in San Francisco. The plan is to create 100 to 400 manufacturing jobs, he said.
“The manufacturing segment is growing, and unlike hospitality, manufacturing jobs pay well,” said Michael Casey, a partner in the law firm of Duane Morris, and chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s new manufacturing task force. “There are over 18,000 manufacturers now in Florida, employing 320,000 people, and the average annual compensation for those manufacturing jobs is a little more than $52,000 a year — more than people are paid in hospitality and tourism.”