Mike Taranto is a product developer, the kind of guy who is in business to come up with a better way to do something. “I enjoy it the most when we create things that are novel and that are actually useful and solve problems that exist in the marketplace,” Taranto says. Ultimately, this is why his company, Solar Shade USA, makes particularly unique tensioned fabric structures, providing shading and protective covering solutions for a wide variety of clients.
His compass has always seemed to point in this direction. Even when he was working for somebody else he was unwittingly gathering information for opportunities that surfaced later. “I happened to be in a vineyard in South Africa that had mesh over it to protect the vines from hail damage. I just kind of logged that away and didn’t think much about it,” he says. Later, he learned about the huge insurance premiums that car lots have to pay to cover storm damage. He made a connection. “The fabrics that I saw in South Africa were good for horticulture, but you couldn’t apply them to what I wanted to do, so I set out to find a denser fabric.”
As he learned about fabrics and their applications, he also learned about all the rules that exist about providing shade, particularly for schools and other public places. “Maybe,” he thought, “we could make something that does both.” But he needed a longer lasting product, one that had the physical properties to stop hail and provide good sun protection.
“We did a lot of research,” he says. His company came up with a high-density polyethylene, which they have custom knitted. His standard product line tensions the fabric independent of the steel structure, which eliminates the abrasion between the fabric and the steel frame. And it looks cool.
“You can get nice shapes,” he says, which makes them popular with architects, who also appreciate that his structures “perform differently” and fabric structure novices can install them just by following the assembling instructions.
He’s maintained his position as a “lower volume, higher quality, reasonably priced producer” in part by contracting with local tradesmen. “We’re located in rural Missouri. You’d be amazed at the machinists you can find ‘in a field of corn.’ They do high quality work, economically, and they deliver.”
He’ll admit to being something of a workaholic, but he’s happy that way. He’s tried retirement—twice. But “somebody that you know asks you for help and then you start doing more,” he says. “That’s enjoyable. I would always do that.”
He takes time out for his children and grandchildren, though, and to restore old vehicles, including his 1949 Willys pickup truck and a sidecar motorcycle of unspecified origin. He’s also an avid woodworker and likes to fish. But as long as someone comes up with a question, Taranto is just as likely to “ride around on my lawnmower, smoke a cigar and try to figure out the answer.”