UK - Lodge Manufacturing cooks up biggest expansion in its 120-year history

Reading time: min

Cast-iron cookware maker Lodge Manufacturing is firing up its second expansion this decade and the largest in the 120-year history of the South Pittsburg, Tenn., company.

Lodge will add 90 new jobs when it builds another foundry near its existing facility as well as a 200,000-square-foot warehouse, said company spokesman Mark Kelly.

"We completed an expansion in January 2015 on the current foundry. It was not large enough," Kelly said. "We have to build a whole new foundry."

The company next week will formally break ground on the new 127,000-square-foot foundry to produce its popular cast-iron goods, increasing its production capacity by 75 percent, he said.

Lodge will have about 400 employees after the latest expansion is complete in late 2017 or early 2018, Kelly said. About a decade ago, the company employed just under 200 people, the spokesman said.

The expansion is driven by record sales of the cast-iron skillets and other goods produced by Lodge, he said.

"Sales continue to go well," Kelly said. "We're blessed and fortunate with how things have gone with cast-iron cookware."

The private company wouldn't say how much it's putting into the expansion, but Kelly termed it "a huge investment."

South Pittsburg Mayor Jane Dawkins said she's glad the company decided to stay at home to expand.

"They're our largest employer and mean so much to our community," she said. "Those jobs will be provided by a hometown business."

Scott Hawkins, chairman of the Marion County Partnership for Economic Development, said Lodge has been a family business over the years and has helped "keep the town going and given them plenty to do."

"They're good-paying jobs," he said.

The company was founded in 1896 by Joseph Lodge. It began as The Blacklock Foundry, named after Joseph Lodge's minister, but that foundry burned down in May 1910.

Three months later, Lodge rebuilt the foundry under its current Lodge Manufacturing name. Lodge remains the last major U.S. maker of cast-iron cookware.

The new foundry will go about two blocks from the existing location, Kelly said, while the warehouse will be constructed off Highway 156.

He said Lodge officials are seeing increases in all of its main cookware categories of business.

"We're very fortunate we've had production that we've introduced which has really hit home with a lot of folks," Kelly said, citing a Macy's department store line and another for the restaurant trade.

Lodge plays an out-sized role in South Pittsburg's National Cornbread Festival, which attracts thousands of visitors to the rural Tennessee town in April.

The business was named "company of the year" this year by the Tennessee Association of Manufacturers.

"Lodge has demonstrated excellence in many areas and has continued to grow its business, even making a product that never wears out," said Tim Spires, president the statewide manufacturers group. "Employees at Lodge are very much engaged in continuous improvement initiatives and the company is a good corporate citizen and strong supporter of the community where it operates."