By Lily Skopp – Staff Writer, South Florida Business Journal
When most people think of South Florida’s top industries, they think of tourism, hospitality and real estate. Manufacturing? Not so much.
But due to the region’s seaports, international airports and prime location, the manufacturing industry has matured into a robust sector garnering national accolades for its growth. For example, Forbes magazine named Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties in its 2018 list of counties where manufacturing thrives.
“Manufacturing in South Florida isn't thought of as sexy, and that’s a struggle for our industry,” said Matthew Rocco, president of the South Florida Manufacturers Association. “But in reality, there are some really good, high-paying jobs down here, and it touches everything we do in our economy. It’s really the backbone of our economy.”
The sector benefits from South Florida’s railways, highways, three major seaports and three international airports – including Miami International Airport, which is No. 1 in the nation for international freight. That, and its status as an international hub, has helped make the region’s manufacturers strong trade partners with Latin America and the Caribbean.
“Everything that a manufacturer needs is all here,” Business Development Board of Palm Beach County President and CEO Kelly Smallridge said. “If you look at the talent and education networks, the university systems, the transportation and mobility, the bilingual workforce … the resources we have in South Floridaare unmatched.”
Manufacturing: Made in South Florida
The booming manufacturing industry is great news for job growth and investment opportunities. Some manufacturers use private funding, while others rely on strategic acquisitions to grow their businesses.
The industry employed nearly 89,000 people in South Florida and supported an additional 2.9 million indirect jobs in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It expects those number to swell nearly 10% by 2026.
Those workers earn an average annual wage of $57,163, with total wages for the sector at about $5 billion, BLS statistics show. That compares to the state’s median household income of $52,594, according the most recent U.S. Census data.
South Florida is a prime location for the building of aerospace and marine materials. Pharmaceuticals, medical devices, biotechnology, and health and beauty products also thrive.
“What’s most important for companies now is proximity to the customer,” Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance President and CEO Bob Swindell said, adding that the region’s accessibility to Latin America and the Caribbean provides a competitive advantage, as it shaves companies’ manufacturing costs.
“Our marine and aerospace industries in South Florida are an example of this because, with our transportation networks, we’re the perfect spot for servicing boats or aircraft,” he said.
The industry is also quite automated, said Stanley Rigaud, the Miami-Dade Beacon Council’s director of international economic development and trade and logistics. South Florida’s manufacturers are diverse and small, with 93% of them employing less than 50 workers.
“We’re in good shape,” Rigaud said. “We’re seeing the area become a big attraction for a lot of startups here, particularly from South America – but also from all over the world.”
Cosmetic Solutions lures big-name brands
The Boca Raton-based company provides turnkey services for its cosmetic clients | JOCK FISTICK
For Cosmetic Solutions CEO Warren Becker, the best part of his day is walking into a mall and spotting his company’s products displayed everywhere.
The Boca Raton-based company manufactures private-label skincare products for established brands, physicians and skincare professionals, and even some celebrities.
Cosmetic Solutions works with clients to create, mass-produce and market its beauty products. It makes about 50,000 products, including cleansers, exfoliators, moisturizers and wrinkle treatments. The company will manufacture 10 million to 15 million units this year alone, Becker said.
Established in 1991, Cosmetic Solutions focuses on pure and clean beauty products created with natural ingredients. The company employs about 125 workers and occupies about 90,000 square feet of manufacturing space.
Cosmetic Solutions has confidentiality agreements with its clients, so it cannot disclose the companies or celebrities it works with, Becker said. However, its products can be found at major cosmetics retailers such as Ulta Beauty and Sephora, he added.
Becker declined to reveal the private company’s annual revenue but said it’s projecting revenue growth of 25% this year.
“We’ve been able to bring on some meaningful customers, and we’ve got some exciting opportunities with big brands and celebrities in our pipeline,” Becker said. “It’s really just astounding to keep growing commercially as well as operationally.”
Heico soars into aerospace titan on family’s vision
It’s been said that the road to success runs uphill.
The team that helped grow Hollywood-based Heico into a global multibillion-dollar aerospace and electronics conglomerate can attest to that.
As the company’s largest shareholders, Laurans Mendelson and his sons Eric and Victor made an unsuccessful takeover bid in 1998. They later sued and gained control of Heico two years later.
“My first project out of business school was the proxy fight to take over the company,” Eric said. “We’ve been fighting to better Heico ever since.”
The Mendelson family has transformed Heico (NYSE: HEI) from a small player in the aerospace industry to a top manufacturer of aircraft, spacecraft, defense equipment, medical equipment and telecommunications systems.
Laurans Mendelson is the company’s CEO. Eric manages the flight support division, while Victor oversees electric technologies.
When the family took over Heico nearly 30 years ago it had a market capitalization of $30 million. Today, the company, which employs 6,000 workers, is worth about $15 billion and generates about $2 billion in annual revenue.
The key to Heico’s success is the company’s strategic acquisitions, Eric said. Under their leadership, Heico has acquired 75 companies, most still run by the original owners, he added.
“It’s an exciting time for our company and an exciting space to be in,” he added. “The culture we’ve developed is extremely decentralized, entrepreneurial and aggressive. We have really committed people who love what they do, and that includes me.”
Loyal customer base keeps JL Audio booming
JL Audio was hit hard by the recent tariffs imposed by the Trump administration.
The speaker manufacturer buys critical parts from China, which are being taxed at 25% upon import to the U.S. Due to the tariffs, the Miramar-based company increased prices twice in the past eight months, President Andy Oxenhorn said. But customers don’t really seem to mind.
“Our products are for users who really want the best, and we have a very loyal following,” he said. “When someone looks at a JL Audio product, it’s built beautifully, it looks beautiful and it sounds impeccable. We hold ourselves to a very high standard, and our customers have noticed.”
Founded in 1975 by Jim Birch and Lucio Proni, JL Audio has 600 employees who produce more than 1,200 audio products for boats, cars and homes. Its products are sold in all 50 states and 80 countries, Oxenhorn said.
JL Audio’s merchandise is also sold through Independent Boat Builders Inc., an invitation-only cooperative where boat builders can purchase parts and products, such as audio equipment, for their boats.
Revenue grew 16% last year, and the company has maintained at least a 9% year-over-year increase since 2010, Oxenhorn said.
JL Audio mostly distributes its products through more than 1,000 retailers, including Miami-based SeaVee Boats and other big brands including Cigarette, Contender, Intrepid, Boston Whaler, Chris-Craft, Yellowfin and Natique.
“Almost any great brand you know will use JL Audio,” Oxenhorn said. “We’re installed in some of the biggest and most beautiful yachts in the world.”
Pavilion adds Miami flavor to its furniture line
Pavilion Furniture has returned to its South Florida roots.
Based in Miami for over 70 years, the boutique furniture company renamed its collections to reflect its rich tropical heritage. Rebranded items include its Biscayne ottomans, modern-style Brickell tables and Wynwood art-influenced outdoor chairs.
“It reflects the company because, rather than making just furniture, we are making moments of wonder,” President Ward Usmar said. “This vibrant community goes into our design and all we are. We are building products that are unique, stylish and functional. Miami is the perfect accent to that.”
Pavilion manufactures 30 made-to-order furniture collections, targeting hospitality and residential brands, commercial and residential dealers, design firms and showrooms.
The company has produced furniture for major hotel companies Best Western International, Hilton Worldwide Holdings and Marriott International, as well as local properties including the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville and Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago.
Pavilion employs about 120 workers in a 100,000-square-foot Miami Gardens campus that features two buildings. One is for building the furniture; the other for powder coating, a technique that adds a color finish to the products.
The company began as a metal tech manufacturer in the 1950s, then became Pavilion Furniture in 1996. The company’s latest change came in 2017, when it was acquired by umbrella manufacturer Tucci Worldwide. It’s this constant evolution that keeps Usmar on his toes, he said.
Pavilion has a series of new products in the works, which it hopes to launch by the end of the year.
“We stay ahead of the competition because we are design-driven and innovative,” Usmar said. “We’re always transforming ourselves to stay ahead of the industry.”
Family’s values elevate Valley Forge’s textile game
Valley Forge Fabrics has always been a family business.
Diana Dobin’s parents founded the Fort Lauderdale-based company when she was 6. She and her brother, Mikey, now run the textile manufacturer as co-CEOs.
For Dobin, the company’s 300-plus employees are part of the family.
“My Valley Forge family means everything to me,” she said.
Launched in 1977, the company produces drapery, bedding, upholstery, pillows, roller shades and shower curtains for some of the world’s biggest names in the hospitality industry. Clients include Hyatt Hotels Corp., InterContinental Hotels Group, Marriott International and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.
Valley Forge’s wide range of products employ its textile archive of more than 100,000 patterns, Dobin said. Beyond Fort Lauderdale, it operates facilities in North Carolina, Massachusetts, Turkey and China.
The private company generated about $125 million in revenue last year, said Dobin, adding that the company must constantly be in innovation mode to remain competitive.
One of the ways Valley Forge innovates is by using recycled fibers and fibers made from eucalyptus and other botanicals, which is better for the environment.
Updating technology, such as automating computer processes, is also high on its list of priorities.
Still, human interaction is key to the company’s culture, Dobin said.
“The best part of my job is working with my team every single day. I love the people we work with and I love the creativity of what we do,” she said. “It has always been about the connection with my team and the differences we make in people’s lives.”