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Robert A. Berman Headshot

What About Fred?

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Somebody better find Fred.

He's your painter. Your plumber. Your brother-in-law with a pickup and a crew of five guys. Or he used to be.

Today Fred is a hero. He is going to save the American economy.

That is, after all, what we hear about small businesses and how they are doing what everyone agrees needs to be done the most: Create jobs. Put Fred back in business.

Fred should be happy this month: Congress is getting ready to pass one of the biggest jobs bills in American history.

The bill is supposed to be about infrastructure: A gajillion dollars worth of roads, trains, buses, boats, cars, ferries, dining cars, Indian reservations, motorcycles, trucks, tractors, canals, wetlines, pipelines, fishing and even horses.

But jobs are the thing. People who wrote the bill are the first to tell us we have to get Fred and his crew back to work, hammering, painting, plumbing, whatever.

But after all the Congressional testimony about small business, after all the talking heads retire to their New York co-ops, this remains: 99 percent of the small contractors in this country will never get -- or even bid on -- any part of the public work this bill creates.

Whatever they are doing to create jobs for Fred is just not working. Or they would not still be talking about it.

This failure may be a mystery in the highly polished halls of power. But out in the streets, where my company sees thousands of small business owners every day all over America, the answer is simple: Fred cannot bid on public jobs of any kind because Fred cannot get credit.

Federal regulators do share our enthusiasm for Fred. They come down hard -- real hard -- on any bank that won't make loans to most people you and I would consider small businesses, as that means no work for Fred. Here's why: To buy the asphalt or paint or workers comp insurance or bonding or workers or any of the hundreds of other things Fred needs to start and finish a federal job, he needs credit. Because a lot of money goes out before any comes in.

The Great Recession not only hurt Fred's credit score, it also raised lending standards at Fred's bank.

That is a double whammy that put a lot of people out of business.

If you noticed that lawmakers are telling Fred "go, go, go," and banking bureaucrats are saying 'no, no, no," then you get it.

If you think something is strange when people like Fred pay for these jobs with taxes then never have a chance to actually work on them, you get it.

If you think missing a few payments on a piece of real estate has no bearing on Fred's ability to install plumbing, lay wire, or pave a sidewalk, you get it.

The President could fix these over-zealous regulators tomorrow and put Fred back to work .

But he does not.

Don't believe me? Just ask Fred.

If you can find him.