Over the past 10 years, developer Robert Catzen has built warehouses in Anne Arundel County, apartments in Harford County and office space in downtown Baltimore. As the head of Dalsemer, Catzen and Associates, he usually has two or three buildings under way at any given time. But this year, he says, he has nothing coming out of the ground -- and nothing on the horizon.
While he waits for market conditions to improve in the real estate industry, Mr. Catzen has gone into a field where he sees some of the same demand he used to see for real estate: recycling.
With several partners, including Andrew Kaufman, Richard Pearlstone and his brother, Dudley I. "Dic" Catzen, he has set up a new company to help communities around the nation recycle products such as plastics and newspaper so they don't burden local landfills.
The key to making the venture work, he said, is finding a market for the recyclable materials once they're collected. In the past, companies have been able to collect materials from individual households, he said, but then they have difficulty disposing of what they have collected.
"Our notion is to go the next step and convert paper into pulp and convert plastics into [new products]," he said. "People in the business say taking the process to the next step is the right thing to do."
The new company is called PenCor Inc., a name made up of the first names of Mr. Catzen's wife, Penny, and Mr. Kaufman's wife, Corrine. PenCor is the general partner of Environmental Waste Alternatives Limited Partnership, which also includes Mr. Catzen's brother and Mr. Pearlstone.
Its first business venture is in Londonderry, N.H., where PenCor is seeking approval to build a $55 million facility that will sort recyclable materials and then convert paper and plastics into readily marketable forms. If they can get the proper zoning and construction approvals this summer, they expect eventually to employ 150 people and handle up to 500 tons of waste a day -- 20 percent of what southern New Hampshire produces.
PenCor is also working on plans to build a facility in Salem, N.H., where contractors who demolish buildings can take the debris for recycling so it doesn't end up in a landfill.
Mr. Catzen said that although the recycling business is new to him, it requires a lot of the same skills as commercial real estate development, including the ability to work with lenders; to put together a financial package; to identify a construction site and design buildings for it; to get zoning approvals and construction permits; and to assemble a team of consultants.
What he especially likes is that he's busy again, the way he was in the real estate business five years ago.
"Unlike the development industry right now, which is flat on its back, this is new and exciting," he said. "The phone is ringing off the hook. We're into new technology. It's fun to be doing something that is dynamic again."