TELEVISION sets, printed forms, workwear – they were all made in Wodonga over the past 40 years.
But with changes to markets, tariffs and international competition the city has seen the demise of Sanyo, Moore Business Systems and Yakka.
Of course they are not the only manufacturers in the area to have disappeared, hundreds of jobs have gone with the demise of gear box making at Lavington and textile production at Wangaratta and Benalla.
Against that background it is a tremendous feat for a large-scale enterprise to have survived for 50 years, but that is the case with Mars Petcare Australia.
Five decades ago, March 28, 1967, cans of pet food began streaming out of the company’s $1 million Wodonga factory.
Set up before the decentralisation mania of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, the investment by the then Uncle Ben’s of Australia showed welcome confidence in the Border.
Wodonga’s road and rail transport links, proximity to capital cities and ready water and labour supply were key factors.
Initially 200 were employed with growth resulting in 800 working at the factory in 1997 when it marked 30 years.
Today about 500 workers, or associates as they are known at Mars, are in Wodonga.
With automation the production line has altered greatly over the 50 years, as has the container in which pet food is packaged.
No longer do cans dominate as they have for the bulk of the plant’s existence.
About 1.3 million cans still come off the production line each day, but 20 years ago there were two million every 24 hours.
The advent of single-serve trays in 1988 ate into the can rates and now a million are produced each week with a second line to become fully operational later this year.
With $50 million being spent on that expansion it is a welcome boost to confidence in Australian manufacturing.
Mars enjoys a 47.7 per cent share of the dog food market in Australia and 42.4 per cent of the equivalent cat sector.
That is testament to the quality of their products, but as Mars Petcare Australia chief Barry O’Sullivan acknowledges the company needs to continue to innovate.
That agile thinking reflects why Mars has been able to survive in Australia’s manufacturing sector.
We congratulate Mars Petcare on a stellar 50 years and wish them continued success on the Border for a long time to come.