From High School to Painter to Ohio Small Business Person of the Year, One Man’s Journey to the Top

May 2018

From High School to Painter to Ohio Small Business Person of the Year, One Man’s Journey to the Top

Dave Nolan began his career as a commercial painter after high school. He found success early, earning the 1997 Apprentice of the Year designation from the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. He quickly graduated to journeyman, and foreman soon after. This rapid rise was disrupted at age 32, when a motorcycle accident left him a below-the-knee amputee. Nolan began learning to walk again through intensive physical therapy, but found himself turned away from projects and jobs he’d long ago mastered. Instead of giving up, Nolan became determined to reinvent his career. Nearly 20 years later, he’s the president and owner of a multimillion-dollar, award winning commercial inspection business.

It took only three years for Nolan to go from recovery following his accident to founding Quality Control Services. During that time, Nolan pursued certification in a critical field in the transportation industry, coating inspection. Recognizing that he could leverage his experience as a painter to bring a unique perspective to inspection, Nolan moved to New York City and became a project manager with two of the nation’s largest transportation agencies.

While working in New York, Nolan gained valuable experience and continued his technical training, completing the highest levels of certification in coating inspection. It was during this time he recognized a troubling industry trend in his home state of Ohio. Bribery and corruption cases related to bridge inspection contractors signaled not only a threat to the industry, but also to public safety. In 2004, Nolan saw an opportunity and decided to return home and build a coatings inspection firm based on honesty and integrity.

“All I had was a Jeep Wrangler, an inspection kit, a laptop and a lot of drive,” said Nolan.

That’s all it took for Quality Control Services to grow slowly but steadily in a notoriously competitive field, winning small contracts and economic development grants. Through Quality Control Services' initial years, Nolan worked independently, performing as a sub-consultant on several Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) bridge paint inspection contracts. Over time, Nolan’s perseverance began to pay off as Quality Control Services won progressively larger contracts and started building a highly skilled workforce.

“We built a reputation for integrity and expertise,” said Nolan. “We hire trusted and known inspectors that are professional and focused. That’s what our customers expect, and it’s what they deserve.”

Quality Control Services won its first major contract in 2010, opening the door to new lines of service and substantial workforce growth. Nolan secured an SBA loan in 2015 through KeyBank which helped finance Quality Control Services headquarters.

By 2016, thanks to major projects including the I-71/I-670 Columbus Crossroads Project and both Innerbelt bridge projects on I-90/Downtown Cleveland, Nolan had built a business earning nearly $5 million in annual revenue and employing a workforce of 36.

Nolan is as deliberate and driven in his education as a business owner as he was in his training as a coatings inspector. He runs Quality Control Services as a lean operation with low overhead and minimal debt. His partnership with Key includes a line of credit. For him, using business credit isn’t common, he says he has it more for peace of mind than anything else.

“I’m grateful Key was willing to give me a shot,” says Nolan. “Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on the credit line often, but much of our work is seasonal, so it is reassurance.”

Nolan has also continued to develop his skills as a business owner as a participant in University Circle Inc.’s NextStep program, designed to help CEOs scale their operations.

Quality Control Services' impressive growth, based on dedication to continuous improvement and rooted in honesty and integrity, earned Nolan the distinction of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2018 Ohio Small Business Person of the Year. The award is given annually, based on criteria including workforce growth and response to adversity.

Nolan says the honor is humbling, hard to believe, and motivation to continue growing the business.

“We have an aging infrastructure in Cleveland, and corrosion is a constant threat,” says Nolan. “Our business isn’t only about ensuring tax dollars are spent responsibly. If coatings systems on bridges and roads are applied correctly and efficiently, people are safer and infrastructure lasts longer.”

Nolan’s plans to expand Quality Control Services into new markets, including nearby state departments of transportation, and federal and regional agencies. It’s an ambitious plan and a significant challenge, and Nolan wouldn’t have it any other way.