Grove City native seeks to win 'transformational' online prize
Corbin Clay is looking to bring an idea to life with the help of something dead.
Along the way, the Grove City native is hoping to win an online competition that could provide the means to expand his Colorado furniture business.
Clay is a 2000 graduate of Grove City High School now living in Denver. He is one of five national finalists in "A Gentleman's Call," a contest sponsored by Ketel One Vodka.
The finalists were chosen from among thousands of ideas submitted as exemplifying craftsmanship, entrepreneurship and philanthropy. Online voting will determine which of the five is "most inspiring and worthy of being backed."
Voting is open through Nov. 26 on Ketel One's Facebook page, agentlemanscall.com.
The winner will receive $100,000 to develop his or her idea and make it a reality.
That prize money, Clay said, would be "transformational" for his company, the Azure Furniture Co.
"I thought we had a pretty good idea," he said.
Clay's idea centers on pine trees that have been killed by infestations of bark beetles. Out West, these dead, dry trees are not only an eyesore, but they also enable forest fires to escalate and spread out of control.
"The American Rocky Mountains have 4 million acres of dead pine trees," Clay said. "We're trying to find creative solutions."
That solution involves working with local sawmills to remove those trees from forests and then using the wood, an "otherwise wasted resource," to craft quality furniture that is affordable and long-lasting.
"Our mission is to create heirloom quality at affordable prices," Clay said.
Although the tree is dead, Clay said it takes another 10 years for it to decompose. The trees his company uses have typically been dead for about five years.
In addition, Clay said they hand-select every piece of wood they use to ensure its quality.
"If you do it properly, it's going to be useful for somebody a long time," he said.
Clay said he is looking to expand. The U.S. furniture industry, he said, used to have a lot of domestic jobs that have since been outsourced.
By tapping into the dead pine trees as a resource, Clay said the company could bring some of those jobs back.
"If you can create a product that fills a void," he said, "you're going to do pretty well."
Clay said he got into woodworking after moving to Florida for school, getting a job in the industry to pay his way. Before long, he became an apprentice to a Florida woodworker and has been a professional for the past eight years, becoming a business owner about three years ago.
"I like the honesty of it," Clay said of the tradition of woodworking. "I like the idea of taking something that is raw and in its most natural state and adding design and craftsmanship to make it useful."
His company launched a new website this week, azurefurniture.com.