In November, the Florida Home Builders’ Association (FHBA) inducted E. Jay Carlson into its Florida Housing Hall of Fame. The peer-nominated distinction honors men and women who have made “significant and lasting contributions” to both the home building industry in Florida and to the FHBA. The award was presented to Carlson during the FHBA’s 2016 Fall Leadership Conference.
Carlson certainly has the résumé to justify such an award. An advocate for workers’ compensation reform in Florida, he also served as FHBA president in 2009 and has been an FHBA life director since 1996. Carlson has served on and chaired more than 40 different committees within the association.
The first step in this career? He made the simple decision to follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps.
An Industry Legacy
Walford Carlson, Carlson’s grandfather, owned a lumberyard and a building business in Indiana, where Robert Carlson, Carlson’s father, cultivated his own career skills.
“I remember walking the jobsites with my dad and picking up bits and pieces of how a building business is run as I grew up,” recalls Jay Carlson. He moved to Florida at age 17 in 1975, one year after his father, who founded Carlson + Soforth in 1976. Jay Carlson began as a carpenter and moved into overhead garage door installation before he started to work for his father’s company, which he now leads.
As a small local builder, Carlson + Soforth offers a wide array of projects. Its recent projects include condominiums, custom homes, and a combination gas station and convenience store. The company has also provided condominium and homeowners’ association management services since the 1990s. “One thing my dad was big on was diversification,” says Carlson. “So that is one of the things that’s been a constant in our business.”
Robert Carlson encouraged his son to get involved in builders’ associations. “I remember distinctly, he said, ‘You need to join the builders’ association because you’ll learn a lot and you’ll always have friends to fall back on when you need some advice,’” Jay Carlson says.
Not long after Carlson joined what was then known as the Five County Builders and Contractors Association, he worked to form the Charlotte County chapter into its own independent body. Eventually, he secured a charter from the NAHB for the Charlotte Builders and Contractors Association, now known as the Charlotte-DeSoto Building Industry Association (CDBIA), and served as its president in 1989 and 1995.
During the 1990s, Carlson turned his attention to workers’ compensation. “We boasted the highest premiums with the lowest service rate for employees,” he says. He battled with the Florida Legislature over the issue throughout the decade, which culminated in the formation of the Florida Commission to Reform Workers’ Comp in 2000.
“It was quite a deal over a year’s period where we hammered out and came to a consensus on all the issues,” Carlson says. “We came up with a report that ultimately became legislation that did reform workers’ comp to the betterment of the employees and the employer.”
Carlson’s 1995 CDBIA presidency also overlapped with a down cycle in the building industry, which had made the ongoing issue of impact fees all the more urgent. Given the economic importance of the construction industry in Florida, Carlson knew the health of the state’s economy would be tied to the health of the industry. He focused on cutting all the “unnecessary regulations and fees” that he could, he says. “We got impact fees lowered or actually abated for a certain period of time because of the downturn in the economy. We wanted to do everything we could to spur the industry back into an uptick.”
“I can tell you, when I got here, it didn’t take me long to figure out this guy named Jay Carlson cast a large shadow over this organization,” says Rusty Payton, CEO and chief lobbyist of the FHBA. “His impact is an example of commitment to his fellow volunteer leaders, and I think to the consumer of Florida he’s worked very hard to appropriately balance safety and welfare with affordable pricing.”
While Carlson and the FHBA have amassed many legislative victories over the years, their work is far from over. On top of his continuing involvement in the FHBA and CDBIA, Carlson also serves on the Florida Building Commission and the Florida Fire Code Advisory Council, by appointment of Gov. Rick Scott.
Carlson has also been drawn back to the issue of workers’ compensation. The Florida Supreme Court overturned the attorney fee cap portion of the 2002 workers’ compensation plan in May—a decision that Carlson and the FHBA want to reverse. Another current focus is the shortage of skilled labor, which Carlson and his associated builders are looking to improve by volunteering their own time and talent.
Beyond his official duties, Carlson has fostered a commitment to the construction industry and to builders’ associations in his sons, Jacob and John. Much like his own father, Jay Carlson nurtured his sons’ careers by taking them to work and having them on jobsites from an early age. Jacob is a cabinetmaker, while John is an assistant project manager with Core Construction in Sarasota, Fla., and serves on the board of directors for the Manatee Sarasota Building Industry Association.
Throughout his career, Jay Carlson has worked to shape the well-being of the Florida home building community. In the future, he hopes that his efforts and the efforts of the builders’ associations will continue to impact the industry in a positive manner.
“I’d like to see us continue building safe, affordable homes for residents of Florida, and that can be accomplished within the industry working with a modicum of regulation from the government,” he says. “I think ... our industry really cares about quality product being placed on the market, at an affordable price.”