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Bobby Harper hangs cookware pieces at Lodge Manufacturing.

Since the demise of Wagner Ware 15 years ago to cheaper imported cookware, Lodge Manufacturing has survived as America's last major cast iron cookware manufacturer.

But the South Pittsburg maker of cast iron skillets, pans and dutch ovens isn't just surviving these days in the international market. Lodge is boosting its own balance of trade in the global market by growing its export sales last year to more than $3 million.

"The economy has helped out some and currency rates are a bit better, but cast iron remains very popular around the world and American-made products are seen as the best," said Mark Kelly, marketing director for Lodge Manufacturing. "People know if it is made here, it is going to be of high quality."

Even in China, where much of the cheaper cookware that competes against Lodge is produced,

many wealthy families are buying Lodge-made pans and skillets for gourmet cooking, Kelly said. Lodge also enjoys a huge presence in Australia and New Zealand, especially in the outback where Lodge dutch ovens are popular.

"You hear about the cheap imports, but if you make a great product that kind of supersedes that," Kelly said.

Lodge Manufacturing will be recognized for its growing export business on Friday when the Marion County business wins one of the 2013 governor's awards for trade excellence in Tennessee. Among medium size businesses in the Volunteer State, Lodge was recognized for the top honor during the Governor's Conference on Economic and Community Development in Nashville.

The state also will recognize Magneti Marelli in Pulaski and Bioquant Image Analysis Corp. in Nashville as the other top companies for export growth.

"Tennessee continues to improve its export value, nearly tripling in the past decade and outpacing U.S. contributions to our state in the amount of capital they've invested and the new jobs they've created," said Bill Hagerty, the state's commissioner for Economic and Community Development who previously worked overseas for a number of private investment firms.

Tennessee companies exported $31.1 billion worth of goods and services to other countries last year, up 167 percent from the levels of 10 years ago. The Volunteer State is the 14th largest exporting state in the U.S. and one of the country's fastest growing exporting states, Hagerty said.

For Lodge, exports have been actively promoted for decades. The South Pittsburg manufacturer, which is in the midst of one of its biggest expansions in more than two decades, is replacing its melt center, adding a sand system and molding machine and hiring another 25 workers this year.

The company promotes its exports through trade shows such as the annual Ambiente conference in Frankfurt, Germany and through its membership in the Housewares Export Council (HECNA), which promotes sales through distributors in Central and South America.

In South Pittsburg , Lodge employs about 220 people at its foundry and four distribution and sales outlets. The company was founded in 1896 by Joseph Lodge and is currently run by two of Lodge's great-grandsons, chief executive Bob Kellerman and chief operating officer Henry Lodge.

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 757-6340.