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Clearwater small business man challenging credit crunch, now testifying before Congress

Frustrated Clearwater small businessman Steve Gordon so wanted President Barack Obama to call on him at the Jan. 28 University of Tampa town hall meeting. He arrived early, chose an aisle seat to be near a microphone and, invoking his lucky number seven, sat on the seventh bleacher row.

"I was determined," Gordon, 53, said Wednesday. "I prayed, 'Please God, let this be my day.' "

The president was in town to unveil a federal grant for a high-speed rail link between Tampa and Orlando. He took six questions that day from a crowd of 3,800.

Gordon got his improbable chance and delivered his own high-speed rail about the plight of small businesses that want to expand but cannot find any lenders willing to extend credit during this deep recession.

It's no exaggeration. Wednesday's big, front-page headline in the Wall Street Journal proclaims: Lending Falls at Epic Pace.

Captured on TV news, the exchange between Gordon and Obama resonated with small business owners nationwide who suffer the same credit crunch. The Clearwater businessman, who makes the Instant-Off water-saving device for faucets, has received many messages of support. And his appeal to Obama earned him a lengthy Q&A in the New York Times.

Now Gordon has been invited to testify Friday on Capitol Hill before a joint hearing of the full House Financial Services Committee and the House Committee on Small Business.

Steve the Small Business Guy has become the new Joe the Plumber, the latest main street guy to feel like no one is on his side in Washington.

Gordon will be one of five small business owners to testify. They will be followed by a second panel of six bank and small business regulators. A third panel of nine bankers and other lenders will conclude the hearing.

Since banks won't lend, Gordon says he will testify that the government should become more of a direct lender to small businesses via its Small Business Administration. He also will call for broadening the criteria for lending beyond a borrower's narrow FICO credit score.

"I'm just honored to be speaking for all the small businesses that do not have a voice," says Gordon, who will travel with his 11-year-old son to Washington.

Gordon's Instant-Off device is sold at Home Depot, among other places, for about $8. Gordon wants to expand his 19-year-old business of five full-time and 30 part-time workers, because he's convinced his device has global potential and can save hundreds of millions of gallons of water, if it can be widely used.

This guy is enthusiastic and obviously does not hesitate to wade into the fray if he thinks something needs fixing. That's one reason Gordon ran for mayor of St. Pete Beach eight years ago. He lost to an incumbent, but the race was reasonably close. Gordon also pitched his faucet invention at the recent Discovery Channel invention competition in Tampa for a chance to be on the cable TV show PitchMen. He was a finalist.

But Friday's testimony in Washington will be a pitch for small business loans. "This is not a big media thing," Gordon says. "This is about America's situation, right in the middle of a job crisis."

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Clearwater small business man challenging credit crunch, now testifying before Congress 02/24/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 24, 2010 11:01pm]
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