• The sports industry hit a home run.
Miami-Dade boasts three professional teams, and the recession didn’t hold back payrolls. The category of spectator sports boasts one of the highest average yearly wages in the county of $150,000 ($16 million yearly contracts for certain transfers from Cleveland tend to skew the average) and the industry added 1,300 positions during the last five years. The growth came as the Marlins moved to their own stadium in Miami (and added about 325 positions, according to the front office), the Dolphins moved its corporate office from a team facility in Broward to the Miami Gardens stadium, and the Heat beefed up attendance with the signing of LeBron James.
• Six years after the housing market peaked, the industry remains a fraction of itself. The building industry has begun to grow again as the high-rise cranes return to Miami and builders are investing in single-family homes. But deep damage remains. Overall, construction employment is down about 40 percent in South Florida.
The details behind the well-known drop show how a construction comeback could go a long way to replacing at least moderate-paying jobs. The category dominated by plumbing and electrical contractors, where the average wage is about $42,000 a year, remains off 13,000 positions in South Florida. The category that includes mortgage brokers remains down more than 30 percent.
However, there are pockets of strength. The category of real estate services is up a stunning 41 percent in Miami-Dade. That sector includes two notable categories: the managers of rental properties, which gained speed throughout downturn as people shunned buying homes; and property appraisers, which saw business pick up as investors helped revive sales of existing homes in the last several years.
Real estate offices, however, are still down about 1,900 positions.
In many ways, the weakness of local high-paying industries captures a larger debate underway as the economy continues a slow recovery. Labor advocates see the wave of low-paying jobs as proof a higher minimum wage would help economic growth by transferring dollars out of corporate profits and into workers’ pockets. Business advocates point to the crucial role entry-level work plays in keeping millions of people out of poverty.
“It’s important to have entry points all over the economy,’’ said Jesse Panuccio, director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. “One of the problems you have in a recession is long-term unemployment. One entry point for the long-term unemployed may be part-time or lower-wage jobs.”
In a boxy warehouse wedged into a lot off NE 185th Street, MacKnight Seafood offers fodder for both sides.
The salmon importer saw sales slow during the recession as restaurants sought cheaper cuts of fish from their suppliers. So MacKnight tasked a team with finding ways to boost its retail business. Among their creations: salmon burgers, salmon roll-ups and even salmon bacon. Sales soared, Wal-Mart and Costco placed large orders and payroll jumped from a peak of 30 during the busy holiday season to 100 this year. President Hamish Rose said the average pay is about $8 an hour, barely ahead of Florida’s $7.79 minimum wage.
“Most of the hires we get are referred to us from the existing staff,’’ Rose said. “People are coming to the door asking us for jobs.”
At the recent hiring event for the new Wal-Mart in Goulds, Michelle Santillon of Miami already had a job. She wanted another to add to the 10 hours she said she works at a dollar store once a week. The pay: minimum wage, leaving the single mother of four to rely on public assistance for food. She’s mainly on the hunt for more hours; Santillon said she never expects to find a job paying much more than Florida’s $7.79 minimum wage “Nine dollars, I think, is too much,’’ she said.
Inside, Wal-Mart personnel workers interviewed for 300 positions. Most start at $8 or $9 an hour, said Kathy Martinez, head of human resources. Dennis Moss, the Miami-Dade commissioner representing Goulds, visited the hiring center and said he wasn’t willing to be choosy about hiring. “It’s still a struggle,’’ he said of a county where unemployment sits at 8.7 percent. “These are solid jobs.”