From every outward appearance, Harshad Shah could take his foot off the gas, but he says he doesn't plan to any time soon.
"I'm 68, and my doctors say I'm in good shape," says Shah, who came to the United States from India in 1974, when he was 21 years old, and launched Chattanooga-based Hamilton Plastics a dozen years later.
"My son's coming on strong, and my management team is very strong and very loyal, so I'm going to keep on trucking," he says.
For the past 35 years, Hamilton Plastics has produced a variety of plastics products, including industrial films and bags used mostly in food packaging and the medical industry. The Riverport Road plant covers 300,000 square feet on 20 acres, has 150 employees and runs 24/7, Shah says.
He adds that Hamilton Plastics enjoyed 7% growth in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and is on track for another year of 7% growth.
And when Shah says he's going to keep on trucking, he's not merely turning a phrase. Trucking – his son's trucking, specifically – is one reason Shah says he plans to remain active. He says his son, Hamilton Plastics Vice President Guru Shah, launched Shah Trucking six years ago and Shah Logistics last year.
"I have two daughters and a son," Harshad Shah says. "My dream was for each of them to be in their own, independent business and to help [at Hamilton Plastics] as needed."
The elder Shah says his daughters, Pooja and Niti, worked at Hamilton Plastics. They're each married, have their own manufacturing and marketing businesses, and work in real estate, he says, while Guru has stayed on and is working to expand the family's brand.
The elder Shah says his son's logistics businesses are currently headquartered at Hamilton Plastics, but will soon require space for their own offices, docks and storage, perhaps very close by.
"We're proposing to buy 12 acres – near, but not adjoining, our current plant. We're planning on building a 40,000-square-foot building [there], followed by a 100,000-square-foot building," Harshad Shah says, adding that he's in the process of adding 55,000 square feet to his current facility.
"Hamilton Plastics also recycles about 10 million pounds of scrap plastic each year, so perhaps we'll expand that recycling into that site," he says.
Harshad Shah says Shah Logistics "is growing very rapidly, to our surprise," given that the business was launched in the thick of the pandemic. The elder Shah adds that COVID has had minimal effect at Hamilton Plastics.
"We're in food packaging, so we're very sanitized. We've taken all the precautions we can, including 100% employee masking," he says. "We had 10 cases in 2020, and everyone [involved] quarantined themselves and came back to work. This year, we've had three cases [as of mid-September]. They quarantined and came back to work."
* Address: 2641 Riverport Rd.
* Online: hamiltonplasticsinc.com
* Launched: 1986
Hamilton Plastics has also announced the addition of a five-layer co-extrusion plant in India to its co-extrusion operation in Chattanooga. Harshad Shah says the new, nine-layer co-extrusion line represents a technological advance compared to the standard three-layer co-extrusion method.
"It's extended-life full packaging; it extends the life of perishable foods," he says, adding that the project was made by Macchi, an Italian company, and developed exclusively by Hamilton Plastics.
Harshad Shah points out with evident pride that 18 of his managers at Hamilton Plastics have been on board for at least 25 years. The key, he says, is loyalty.
"I had dreams when I came to this country," he says. "Building relationships with key employees – giving them loyalty and getting loyalty in return – has given us success beyond imagination."