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Jax Daily Record Friday, Oct. 15, 202105:00 AM EST

Coleman Lay: Seeking growth and ‘family’ culture

The 26-year-old owner of Lay|Duckworth Construction, wants to prove that millennials can work hard and compete for big deals.

Soon to turn 27, Coleman Lay believes he is one of the youngest owners in Jacksonville of an interior construction build-out firm.

As owner and chief operating officer of Lay|Duckworth Construction, he also wants to be known as one of the best.

“It’s opened doors to people who want to give me a shot, people who want to support me,” Lay said Oct. 7 from his Atlantic Boulevard building.

“They say, all these millennials, who are they? Who else like you is trying to run a business and work hard and put in the time and put in the effort?

“There’s an appreciation for that. They want to see me succeed, and so they’re willing to give me a shot and then let me prove myself to them.”

If 26 is considered young, Lay bought the business almost three years ago as he turned 24.

A Jacksonville native, he graduated from The Bolles School and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in building construction in 2017 from the Auburn University College of Architecture, Design and Construction.

At first he thought he would lean toward architecture, given that his father, Rodney Lay, built a naval architecture and marine engineering firm.

Hank Duckworth founded his construction company in 1988. Rodney Lay and Duckworth were friends and neighbors.

 When Duckworth considered selling, they talked about Coleman Lay buying it.

Coleman Lay outside his company’s offices at 13891 Atlantic Blvd. Lay renovated the building, which had been vacant.

Coleman Lay interned there and then joined as a project manager upon graduation. 

The sale was announced in December 2018, as Lay turned 24, and he bought it in January 2019. His birthday is Dec. 19.

At year-end, he will have owned it for three years.

‘Great team, great reputation’

Lay unveiled the name change to Lay|Duckworth on Oct. 1.

Lay rolled out the new logo and name at the Oct. 4 NAIOP golf tournament. He said Duckworth has been involved heavily with the commercial real estate development association.

“Coleman Lay is just the type of developing leader we are trying to recruit in to our NAIOP Northeast Florida Chapter,” said the group’s president, Vince McCormack, by email.

“He sees the value of the organization and is demonstrating that by his major corporate sponsorship as well as attending events and volunteering his time to our organization. I see Coleman as a continued future leader in our Chapter.”

McCormack is president of Perdue Inc., a Jacksonville-based office design and furniture dealer. 

The Lay|Duckworth team of 13 includes many from the previous ownership, including executive and field staff.

Duckworth remains on the team through year-end as chief development officer.

“He bought an ongoing business that was a great fit for him,” Duckworth said of Lay.

“It seems as though the last three years have flown by and he seems to be excelling.”

Duckworth remains in the industry, running Duckworth Development and Construction Inc. to specialize in flex office-warehouse projects.

Team members at Lay|Duckworth include President Gene McCutcheon, who joined Duckworth in 1991. Vice President Jake Chamberlin joined in 2013.

The veteran experience lends Lay confidence knowing there is “a good team behind me” when he competes for a project.

“Great team, great reputation,” Lay said. 

Some of Duckworth’s projects are high profile: CSX, Redwire, Black Knight, Mercedes-Benz. 

The company’s offices at 13891 Atlantic Blvd.

The company focus is on tenant improvement and interior renovations of Class A office space, light medical, industrial and retail space, and restaurants.

With $12 million in 2020 sales, Lay’s goal is to reach $20 million, and more big-name tenants.

“Duckworth Construction Company is known for their good quality of work,” Lay said. 

“I saw the opportunity that I could grow this company and could bring a lot of good ideas.”

Incorporating the past into the future

As sole owner, Lay developed goals for the company: Create a great culture outside of the business; grow the business purposefully; and invest in the business.

He said business has doubled the past three to four years.

Lay made another major move by purchasing the building at 13891 Atlantic Blvd., which was the location of his dad’s business. It had been vacant for about a decade.

In renovating the Atlantic Boulevard building, Lay retained his dad’s office as his own.

The business moved from Duckworth’s Arlington location about six months ago.

The 4,140-square-foot Atlantic Boulevard building, developed about 1951 for a naval architecture firm, featured a water table that ran across the back wall used as a test basin to float model boats. 

That was a testing method before computer-aided design became a widespread practice. Lay incorporated that into the renovation.

Lay said his family took over the building and the naval architecture business in 1977.

When his father retired in 2006, the building was leased to the new owner of the business before it moved out.

When Lay, an only child, bought Duckworth, “it was an immediate reaction that one day this would be the home for my business.”

Lay made changes to the site to encourage staff to have fun.

“Culturewise, I’m trying to have monthly engagements with the employees. We’re doing cookouts. We have a game room in the back where we have a pool table and dart board, creating opportunity for employees to gather and hang out and really get to know each other and be more of a family,” he said.

Lay is not the youngest member of the team. The office manager is younger, and he just hired a 21-year-old project manager.

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