Fidelity Express, GSC are ‘happy to be staying’ where it all began

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK | News-Telegram Managing Editor

July 29, 2007 - Fidelity Express used to be something of the stepchild of parent company GSC Enterprises Inc. But like another tale where all ends well, the once upon a time little money order distributor is about to be the belle of the ball.

GSC Enterprises is plowing some $4.5 million into a new home for Fidelity Express, which has become a pretty big player in the financial services industry, competing with — and sometimes beating — established giants such as Western Union and American Express.

And despite enticements to move to a bigger city, GSC decided to keep Fidelity Express’s headquarters in Sulphur Springs — which also meant keeping close to 70 jobs and millions of dollars in payroll in Hopkins County.

�We have strong ties to this community, and it is wonderful to keep the jobs for 68 employees intact,� said Pat Odom, Fidelity Express division manager. �And we�re excited about continuing to support the economic health of the community.�

GSC Enterprises, through its wholesale food services, is one of the most successful private companies in the U.S., regularly ranking in the Forbes 500 list of  the largest private companies. And because of its massive size (an estimated 1,150 employees and $1.17 billion in annual revenue), Fidelity Express has been something of an afterthought among the general populous — those guys down on Jefferson Street that handle the money orders.

But the only branch of GSC that isn’t involved in food distribution is much more today, said Odom, who has been with Fidelity since joining GSC some 21 years ago.

Alfred Kenneth McKenzie,  who along with brother Curtis McKenzie and the late Woodrow Brittain co-founded Grocery Supply Co. in 1947, came up with the idea about 20 years ago to handle money orders as an added value for its customers.

Odom was part of a small staff of about three that began running the division from an office in a strip shopping center on Main Street. As business began to build, they had to move to bigger site, a blue building on the GSC property they referred to as “the halfway house.”

In the mid-1990s, they were handling so many money orders the company bought the former People’s Bank, later First American Mortgage Bank, building on Jefferson Street. The growth continued steadily, and GSC had to build an additional facility at the site.

Seven years ago, Fidelity embarked on a new project that would rapidly increase business — they entered the walk-in bill payment industry. Fidelity XpressPay was launched in August of 2000 with their first client, TXU Energy, enhancing their money order terminal and developing a process to move the data and funds to billers, quickly and error-free. The process was so innovative they’ve applied for a patent and are in the final stages of receiving approval.

Today, Fidelity Express processes more than 10 million bill payments and 15 million money order transactions annually. XPress Pay process bill payments for more than 200 companies. More than 5,200 retailers in 25 states and the District of Columbia offer some or all of their services. That includes the aforementioned money orders and bill payment, as well as age verification, debit and credit card processing and mobile bill payments. The company is in the process of offering prepaid debt services, which should just add more customers.

Recently, ground was broken on a new home for Fidelity. The 30,000 square foot facility will be located on Main Street just east of GSC’s corporate offices. If the weather cooperates, the facility should be finished in 10 months, according to Hunter Moore with Harrison, Walker and Harper of Paris, the general contractor for the project. (The current Fidelity offices have been sold to Hopkins County, which will take over the building when the new building is completed.)

According to Odom, Fidelity today employees about 68 people, and she expects to add another 15 over the next two years as the division continues to expand.

It wasn’t always a lock, however, that Fidelity’s main office would stay in Sulphur Springs. They considered relocating to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, which would have given them closer access to the high-tech labor pool the financial services industry relies on.

But Odom says everyone at GSC is happy they are staying in the city where it all began, and they’re especially grateful for all the support they’ve received in getting the project going, especially city and county officials, and the boards of Hopkins County Memorial Hospital and the Economic Development Corporation. In fact, the EDC was responsible for handling sewer improvements needed to get the facility built, as well as constructing a detention pond required for runoff during construction.

�With the help and support of our knowledgeable EDC boad and staff in working through all the issues � not only for new businesses, but existing businesses � we are more than ready to get started,� Odom said. �The EDC is so helpful in helping retain business in Sulphur Springs. And we had awesome cooperation from the city with all the planning and permitting.

�We�re truly blessed to be part of this wonderful community,� Odom added. �We want to thank all those who worked so diligently to support our decision to build here at home to help keep our local economy strong.�

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