Powder Coating with a Purpose

Foothills Vocational Opportunities creates jobs for people with barriers to employment.


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The question is often posed to Rob Wahlstrom, director of operations of FVO Solutions in Pasadena, California. The query is legitimate about his powder coating operation, and he is happy to put the prospective customer at ease.

“I tell them, ‘Yes, we have employees with developmental and other disabilities,’” says Wahlstrom. “And then I give them our references and tell them to call anyone on the list. We wouldn’t keep doing this if we didn’t produce quality workmanship.”

It’s a question Wahlstrom gets often at FVO Solutions, which was formerly known as Foothills Vocational Opportunities. The facility’s mission is straightforward: create jobs for people with barriers to employment, create opportunities that would not otherwise exist and have a vision that everyone with a disability or disadvantage who wants to work has an opportunity to do so.

For the past 50 years, FVO Solutions has operated as a nonprofit social enterprise that uses the methods and disciplines of a business to provide contract manufacturing assembly, packaging, fulfillment, mail house, powder coating and staffing needs.

“We have about 120 clients with disabilities who work in our factory, and about 30 staff members who help supervise and job coach,” Wahlstrom says. “We have 50 to 60 people we helped to get and keep jobs in the local community.”



FVO Solutions operates as a nonprofit social enterprise to provide contract manufacturing assembly, packaging, fulfillment, mail house, powder coating and staffing needs.


Lights & Speakers

The powder coating operation usually has a crew of five to six clients and a supervisor coating anything from light fixtures or speaker housings to the paper punches that the facility manufactures for the office products industry and the U.S. government.

Most of their clients are local businesses and the federal government, as well as different companies around the country often need a project coated.

“We have a few consistent customers, but generally we bid on work just like other shops,” Wahlstrom says.

FVO Solutions provides full-service powder coating capabilities, including material preparation, product finishing, advanced assembly and packaging. Finished products can be hand assembled or delivered to the customer’s site for completion.

Their modular system powder coating system has a variable speed conveyor for quick set-ups, and can handle cost-effective runs from prototypes to large volume orders.



A paper punch that the facility manufacturers for the office products industry and the U.S. government.


100,000 Pieces a Month

Years ago, the facility also performed a wet paint operation, but converted to powder coating because it is a greener product.

On a recent day, the crew was adding finishes to truck parts, safety deposit doors and the fixtures that hold runway lights at airports.

“We average about 100,000 pieces a month that go through the finishing line,” Wahlstrom says. The Nordson conveyor powder coating system they purchased and installed in 1992 is still in operation.

The clients handle all the racking of the parts, as well as working on touching up the parts with powder coating. They also un-rack parts and prepare them for delivery, while a supervisor helps out when needed.

“It’s a physically demanding job at times, especially in the summer months when it’s a bit warmer,” Wahlstrom says.

FVO Solutions’ customers say the finishing is very well done, and they will continue working with the facility.



FVO has 50–60 people whom they helped get and keep jobs in the local community.


Quality and Competitive

“They have provided quality, fast delivery, and competitive prices,” says Jeff Orlandini, president of Pacific Die Casting.

William Murphy, chief executive officer of FVO Solutions, says the center fills a much-needed role in the Pasadena and Los Angeles area of helping finding work for those who have physical and mental disabilities.

“Individuals with developmental and other disabilities face overwhelming odds when they try to secure employment,” he says. “Like the special education movement—which gave children with developmental disabilities opportunities to learn among their non-disabled peers—our field has made employment inclusion a priority.”

The typical client is an adult who has challenges such as Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, intellectual deficits, fragile X syndrome and others. They also serve individuals who have mental health disabilities, and many of their clients have multiple challenges, including physical handicaps and complex health issues. Clients are referred to the facility for services by regional centers and the California Department of Rehabilitation.



Most of FVO's clients are local businesses and the federal government, as well as different companies around the country.


Turnover is Good

The goal is to eventually have clients work full-time outside the factory, and more than 60 clients have jobs with employers in the Pasadena area, such as Albertson’s, Altadena Hardware, Disney Store, Home Depot and others. Unlike other operation managers, Wahlstrom likes it when he sees turnover. “The goal is to get them a full-time job so they can provide for themselves,” he says. “When they leave us, it is a happy day.” 

Originally published in the September 2015 issue.