MAY 2010

A Closer Look E-mail the author

Cascade Metal Recycling
Don Roemer • 541-479-8017

Don and Lynn Roemer

Don Roemer’s first step towards recycling was when he got a job driving a tow truck, and the second step was when he bought that business in 1976, “thinking that I knew everything about the auto and towing business since I had worked for them.”

Roemer said that although he was living in a small California town at the time, the area that the business served included a lot of celebrity homes. Over the years, he worked on cars that belonged to Sammy Hagar, David Crosby, Carlos Santana and Huey Lewis, among others.

Eventually, he closed the body shop and opened a wrecking yard. Later, he bought a pick-a-part yard. Junk cars were hard to sell at the time, so he bought his own crusher. The business was “right on San Francisco Bay,” and while the business was doing well, regulations and local environmental groups were making it more and more difficult to remain in business in that area.

At the same time, Roemer’s personal life was changing. During high school, he had dated a girl named Lynn, but they split apart, married other people, and subsequently got divorced. Then, they met again and married. Lynn had three children at the time, and had been working full-time to support herself and the children.

Roemer had been brought up in a household where his mother was at home when the kids were home, and he wanted that environment for his own family. So he started looking for a way to make that happen.

That opportunity arose in 1995, when the family moved to Oregon where Roemer planned on buying a wrecking yard. Unfortunately, the deal fell through because a partner in the wrecking business didn’t want to sell, leaving Roemer out of work and without a business to buy.

He needed to raise funds, so he started crushing cars for other businesses in 1996, but “the whole steel industry fell apart in late ’98 to 99.” He wasn’t making enough money crushing cars, so he went to work for a local shredding operation, running their yards from 1998 to 2000.

While it paid the bills, it wasn’t what he wanted. “To be self-employed, you have to have an edge,” he said. “But I was losing that working for someone else.” He got back into business for himself, and bought a crusher and a small yard in Grant’s Pass, Oregon. “It was a scrap yard, but it was in a residential area, so there wasn’t much you could do,” he said.

At the time, he had six employees and he was looking to expand. Because of the downturn in the logging industry in Oregon, an unused sawmill was available for rent. Roemer convinced the owners that he could run his entire scrap business inside the building, with nothing outdoors. He moved into that building in March 2005, and has been there ever since.

Now the company has 18 employees, including Roemer and his wife Lynn, “who has been at my side” in the business since it opened. He said that the sawmill building offers a great workflow similar to a transfer station. Scrap comes in through two doors where it is dumped into concrete bunkers, then it is moved to the machines for shearing and baling, and is shipped out of a third door. All material goes out the next day, with very little inventory held, except for nonferrous which is shipped every two weeks.

Eighty percent of the material that Cascade processes comes in from individuals who haul material in by truck, car, wagon and sometimes dragged in behind a lawnmower or on a sled. “It’s like a circus,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen. You always want to see what the next act’s going to be.”

Roemer enjoys interacting with those customers and is proud that it “makes their lives a little better by allowing them to make some money.” While he has some industrial accounts, he appreciates “your everyday guy” who shows up with a trunk filled with scrap. On an average day, 70 to 90 of those average guys cross the scale at Cascade.

The next act for Cascade is set in a brand new building in an industrial park that is slated to open next January. The building will be smaller, but more efficient. Roemer anticipates that he will hire a few new employees when the company moves to the new facility, and might increase to 25 within the next 18 months.

Roemer said that he doesn’t want to grow past 25 employees, because the company would become less personal. Right now, he knows all of his employees and their families and is “involved with people’s kids; what goes on with them on a daily basis.”

While Roemer still misses the people back in his small home town in California, he said that even with the rough start, he has come to like Oregon and is now part of his new community. “People look at employees and customers as expendable,” he said. “But the good ones aren’t. Business is built on relationships. I find my success from that.”