Hialeah one of the toughest places in U.S. to find a job

Designer Rene Ruiz opened a 10,000-square-foot factory in Hialeah that now employs 80.
Designer Rene Ruiz opened a 10,000-square-foot factory in Hialeah that now employs 80. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

A recent study ranks Hialeah as one of the worst U.S. cities for finding a job — a rating that has left city officials scratching their heads.

“Hialeah is one of the largest economic engines of the state and Miami-Dade County,” Arnie Alonso, the chief of staff at the Hialeah mayor’s office, wrote in an email to the Miami Herald. “Moreover, the City of Hialeah has been recognized by the Governor and the state as one of the cities with most job creation in the last three years. The Mayor personally invites whoever it is from WalletHub to visit our city and show them what a working city looks like.”

“2015’s Best & Worst Cities to Find a Job,” published earlier this month by personal finance website Wallethub, ranked Hialeah No. 147 out of the 150 most populated cities in the United States. The most recent unemployment statistics, covering November 2014, put the city’s jobless rate at 7.1 percent — the same as the city of Miami.

The study examined 16 metrics, including job opportunity, employment growth and housing affordability. Its data came from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Council for Community and Economic Research, Yelp, Indeed and Gallup Healthways. Out of the other Florida cities surveyed, Tampa, Jacksonville, Pembroke Pines and Cape Coral appear in the top half of the list, while Orlando, St. Petersburg, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Tallahassee appear in its bottom half.

Although Wallethub ranked Hialeah No. 62 in employment growth, other metrics pulled down the city’s rating. According to Jill Gonzalez, a spokesperson from WalletHub, a 13.3 percent unemployment rate for high school graduates, a 9.7 percent unemployment rate for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, industry variety of 6.85 percent and a median annual income of $27,966 resulted in Hialeah’s low position.

Government officials and business leaders found the city’s low rating surprising. According to a report by the Beacon Council, the official economic development organization for Miami-Dade County, 91.52 percent of Hialeah’s 113,231-person labor force is employed. (Hialeah’s total population is 234,451.) Services and retail trade are its largest industry sectors and its job growth rate is 1.16 percent — slightly lower than the City of Miami’s job growth rate of 1.63 percent.

Larry K. Williams, president and CEO of the Beacon Council, called Hialeah “a really great place … It’s got great people and companies,” he said. Once a textile and apparel manufacturing hub, Hialeah now contains bases for companies like the Telemundo network, Ibiley Uniforms and Fine Art Lamps, and it’s planning a $6million investment with Damo USA, Williams explained.

“What’s been happening there has really been transformational. … I would say all these things are reflective of really good jobs,” he said.

Mandy Llanes, the chairman of Hialeah’s chamber of commerce, agreed.

“On a continuous basis, we have new businesses opening up in Hialeah,” he said, citing the rebirth of Hialeah’s historic racetrack and a planned $60 million expansion of Hialeah Park’s casino. “There’s a lot of interest in industries coming to set up in Hialeah and we continue to promote fact that there’s a vibrant community that supports industries that are there.”

High-profile fashion designer Rene Ruiz, who opened a factory in Hialeah two years ago that now has 80 employees, said that he chose the city because it is easily accessible with good public transportation to the airport.

“Hialeah has a lot of potential for growth, and I think between the private sector and the government, there could be a lot more interaction to develop the city of Hialeah, especially by creating jobs.”

While Alayne Unterberger, the Associate Research Director at the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy at the Florida International University, considered Wallethub’s study to be “solid,” she acknowledged that a substantial cash economy could have skewed the reported income level, a metric which heavily affected Hialeah’s ranking.

“You could say that because there aren’t openings in the formal economy and there are a lot of unemployed people, people are using their own forces and creativity to create their own jobs in the informal sector,” she said. “But you can’t track the informal sector very easily.”

Unterberger added that other cities in WalletHub’s study would also have substantial grey economies and similar characteristics to Hialeah, such as a large immigrant population.

“It’s not like you’re weighing apples and oranges — you’re still working with large cities that have large immigrant populations so I think it cancels itself out in that area,” she said. “If you want to say Hialeah is not getting a fair shake, [it’s] in the sense [that] putting Hialeah and Miami in the same study is kind of strange because really they’re the same general area.”

Related stories from Miami Herald