Instead of wincing at a problem with dread, welder and designer Leo Castagno confronts it with an inventor’s ingenuity and an educator’s enthusiasm at his businesses in eastern Idaho.
Whatever problem farmers, business owners and homeowners present, “we find a solution,” he said of his Rexburg-based businesses: Premier Powder Coating and Custom Fabrication, Idaho Laser Cutting and Grow it Now.
“We can design and build whatever people need from OEM ag parts to furniture and decorative signs for businesses and entryways to ranches,” he said of himself and his 35 employees, ranging from engineers to welders. “We love to partner with any size business that wants to make great products.”
Castagno holds three patents: a structure having a compactible walkway, interior space expansion system and a plant protector for gardeners. He has also designed and built foldaway steps to access a trailer, a stable picnic table that does not tip over and bear-proof receptacles.
One of his most memorable designs helped carrot farmers market their product. While working for Vanmark Equipment in Iowa, he designed a machine that washed, scrubbed and peeled the baby carrots sold in grocery stores.
Castagno shared that experience when he taught welding engineering technology at Brigham Young University-Idaho, as an example of how students’ work could eventually be used outside the classroom.
After the welding program was eliminated from the curriculum, he opened Premier Powder Coating and Custom Fabrication in 2005.
“To me welding has become more than just plunking down a pretty bead of hot molten metal,” he said. “I’ve always tried to inspire.”
While it has been rewarding to receive patents, he said one of his greatest privileges was establishing welding schools in Mexico City and Guadalajara.
“It was immensely satisfying to teach young people how welding could influence their future,” he said. “It was a way to teach them ‘how to fish.’”
Castagno said teaching in Mexico changed his ideas about education and eventually running his businesses.
“I came back and changed my syllabus to say, ‘This is not a welding course. This is a course on ship-building, sword-making, problem-solving and leadership. I will teach you to stand up, lead out, take charge, solve problems and make decisions and use welding to do it.’ ”
To Castagno, “sword- making” is a metaphor to protect people from their “enemies,” whether in a classroom or workplace.
“We all have enemies — lack of training, lack of education, unemployment or underemployment, laziness, poor quality, lack of pride, indecision, procrastination, poor leadership, and issues with problem-solving, self-confidence and self-esteem.”
“Ship-building” can carry the future of students as well as employees.
“A ship is a vessel that floats and carries and transports valuable cargo — people with dreams,” he said. “While protecting passengers, it weathers storms and navigates rough seas and strong currents. I encouraged students and now my employees to make swords and to build ships.”
Castagno said whatever he designs, “I try to minimize the number of welds and parts to help make a product last.”
His company’s reputation for precision and fast turnaround times landed him a contract with a business cleaning up the Fukushima nuclear accident site in Japan.
“A company back East found us on a Google search,” he said. “They needed customized metal catwalks with certain specifications. We made and shipped what they needed in about two weeks.”
He has also designed and built platforms and railings for the Hanford Nuclear Site.
At his website, a video shows how his foldaway stairs solved a problem at farms and businesses and are used to easily and safely access places without having to use a ladder.
A regional problem he solved was to make durable bear-proof containers. His Bear Guardian products are used at parks and campgrounds and include dumpsters, trash cans and food containers.
“We make a large quantity of items as part of the Bear-Proofing Montana Project,” he said.
Castagno’s Premier Picnic Tables do not tip over.
The sturdy metal tables are popular with farm families and park managers because they are safe and long-lasting.
His employees at Idaho Laser Cutting manufacture the tables and other items including bedframes, customized memorial benches and signs.
An avid gardener, Castagno started Grow It Now after becoming frustrated with eastern Idaho’s short, unpredictable growing season and June frosts.
He designed several plant protectors to shelter vegetation from frost, wind and hail. His mini-greenhouses and raised beds help gardeners’ plants flourish.
He attributes his business success “to having great customers, wonderful employees and my very supportive wife, Becky. We’ll always be developing new products.”