Region a global drawcard

The world-wide Mars Group built its first Australian manufacturing plants, Uncle Bens of Australia, in Wodonga with production starting in March 1967.

By 1997, sales reached $700 million, of which 30 per cent was exports. Uncle Bens had been producing 2 million cans of pet food daily since about 1991.

When the company celebrated its 30th year of production in 1997, it employed 530 in manufacturing and 230 in support services and the national office.

Sanyo opened in Wodonga in 1974 and by 1980 had made about 220,000 colour television sets.

The original workforce of 35 grew to more than 200 full-time employees in 1980.  At its peak in 1976 employment peaked at 358.  By 1980 a slump in the demand for colour TV sets saw production drop from 400 to 220 sets a day and its range had expanded to speaker boxes, car cassettes, hi-fi units, three-in-one stereos and audio racks.

Sanyo closed the factory in 1987 and the premises taken over by Parker Hannifin.

H. D. Lee factory opened in April 1975.  In 1980 one of their ads said “Lee weren’t the first to make cowboy denims but we were the first to give cowboys what they wanted.  We went out and asked cowboys, and then went ahead and pioneered new styling features that city people take for granted in today’s blue jeans.  We’ve come a long way from our early beginnings, our business has really been on the move, now we are all over the world, including Australia.”

Sarah Coventry Jewellery was commenced in 1949 in USA.  The company grew to over $150 miilion sales per year by 1968 and commenced operation in both England and Australia.  Sarah Coventry moved to Wodonga from Carlton in 1969.

Operating on the in-house party plan system, the sales person displayed the jewellery from a kit in the home of a hostess who had invited friends to see the display, try the jewellery on and ask questions.

Later in 1979 the Australian company was purchased by three Australian businessmen, including local Jim Sawyer, who changed the name to Sar Gem and distributed Sarah Coventry along with a new range of fashion jewellery, Affinity.