› New 127,000 square-foot foundry will have two production lines
› New 212,000-square foot warehouse expandable to up to 500,000 square feet
› $90 million investment in current expansion and upgrade to existing foundry last year
› 92 employees will be hired to current 300-employee headcount
› Manufacturing capacity will grow by 75 percent
Source: Lodge Manufacturing Co.
SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — Carolyn Millhiser recalls how Lodge Manufacturing had to hunt for scrap iron during World War II because it was so hard to find enough to make its cookware.
On Wednesday, the 76-year-old great-granddaughter of company founder Joseph Lodge joined over 100 people as the nation's biggest maker of cast-iron skillets and other goods broke ground on its largest-ever expansion.
Henry Lodge, the privately held company's chief executive, quipped at the construction site off Railroad Avenue that the business is "120 years old and still cooking."
The CEO said a new 127,000-square-foot foundry will join its existing facility here to boost manufacturing capacity by 75 percent and meet demand for its popular cookware.
"More capacity will give us the ability to make new [products]," said the fourth-generation descendent of Joseph Lodge, who started the company in 1896.
Also, the business is constructing a 212,000-square-foot distribution center nearby, which Lodge said will be the biggest building in Marion County and capable to grow to up to 500,000 square feet.
He put the new investment, coupled with an expansion of its existing foundry building finished just last year, at about $90 million.
When the new expansion is finished in late 2017 or early 2018, the company's headcount will increase by 92 workers to about 400 employees, the company said.
Bob Kellerman, Lodge Manufacturing's chairman, said the company is seeing "unprecedented growth." Lodge is selling nationally and in 55 countries, he said.
"The expansion will help us maintain market leadership," Kellerman said, adding that Lodge is committed to making its cookware in Tennessee and the USA.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., said that America isn't the easiest place to do business with its high corporate tax rate and regulatory environment.
"These guys find a way to do it," he said.
The new foundry will include a melt center, sand system and two sand cast molding machines, allowing it to vastly increase production of its foundry seasoned cast-iron cookware, which already can reach up to 8,000 pieces an hour.
Lodge Manufacturing produces 130 items, including skillets, griddles, reversible griddles, grill pans, Dutch ovens and restaurant serving pieces.
The foundry was originally named the Blacklock Foundry after Joseph Lodge's friend and minister, according to the company.
While successful, it burned down in May 1910. In three months, the foundry was rebuilt and the company reborn as Lodge Manufacturing.
CEO Henry Lodge said he's thankful that Joseph Lodge decided to build in Marion County.
"We're blessed by the heritage, location and people that surround us," he said.
Marion County Mayor David Jackson said he worked at Lodge for 34 years and his son now is employed by the cookware maker.
"I got to come home today," he said, citing the company's leadership, products and employees for its success.
Allen Borden, assistant commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, called Lodge Manufacturing "an iconic brand."
"We still make quality products in Tennessee," he said, adding that the state is the fastest in the Southeast in manufacturing job growth.
Sam Wills, the department's Southeast regional director, said Lodge is receiving an incentive package from the state and cited the company's ability to innovate. In 2002, Lodge Manufacturing started making foundry seasoned cast-iron cookware, which has helped drive sales.
Tim Spires, the Tennessee Manufacturers Association's chief executive, noted that Chattanooga acquired the "Dynamo of Dixie" nickname years ago because of its one-time array of foundries.
"Lodge has maintained that strength," he said.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.