What is the Business Enterprise Program?
The Business Enterprise Program (usually referred to as the BEP) is a federally authorized program implemented by each state and territory of the U.S.,to train and license people who are blind or visually impaired to establish and operate food service businesses in public and private facilities. In some states, business opportunities have been expanded to include operation of vending stands, snack bars, cafeterias, gift shops, and store-type operations. The BEP is administered in each state by the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency serving persons with vision loss. The BEP trains and supervises business operators, and equips locations, provides initial inventory, and offers on-going technical support.
The BEP was made possible through the Randolph-Sheppard Act enacted in 1936. This landmark federal law provided for first priority rights for people who are legally blind to operate businesses in federal buildings. Shortly after, all states established a similar law that included state, county, city, and municipal buildings. These state laws created excellent employment opportunities for program growth and employment opportunities for persons with vision impairments.
Persons employed in the BEP are essentially small business owners and are referred to as blind merchants, food service managers, vendors, or BEP operators. In some states, they function very autonomously, while in other states are supervised directly by the state VR agency. The program is a combination of business enterprise and vocational rehabilitation program, thus facilities operate in a partly competitive, partly subsidized market environment. Individual facility operators usually start at a minimum salary level. However, many BEP facility managers make salaries far above the minimum salary level. Individuals usually start with smaller facilities as they are learning operations, and then advance to larger more profitable facilities as these locations become available.
Who is eligible for the Business Enterprise Program?
To be licensed in the BEP, an individual must be legally blind, have United States citizenship, and many states require a high school diploma or GED. Individuals who do not meet these requirements are not eligible for the program. In addition, most states require the person to be registered with vocational rehabilitation services.
Additional skills needed to be a successful business/facility operator include organizational skills, ability to relate well with the public, mathematical skills, management and marketing skills, and motivation.
Would a Business Enterprise facility be good for my employees?
The BEP provides an opportunity for a quality food service or small business to be located in federal, state or private office buildings to provide convenient services for workers. The BEP facilities are overseen by the state department of Vocational Rehabilitation services, and are directed by experienced business supervisors. Facilities are managed by licensed and qualified persons with vision loss and supported by expertly trained personnel.
Your workplace could be an excellent candidate for a BEP facility if it has any of the following:
- Over 500 employees and workers on site
- Employees who don't have a convenient food facility for lunch
- Workers who are unable to have a comfortable lunch and breaks without returning late
- Chronic problems with current food services that are an expensive hassle to employees and the building manager
The NRTC has produced a short informational video (under 10 minutes) which explains the Business Enterprise Program and how it may be of benefit to you. The video was designed for building managers considering a BEP facility, but it gives a comprehensive overview of the program to all who may be interested. The video is available from the two links below. The video shows a variety of businesses, business managers, and interviews with various persons who are knowledgeable of the program. Adobe Flash is required in order to play the clip, and if you do not have this software you will be prompted and offered a link which will allow you to install it. If you have questions about this video, please contact the NRTC at 662-325-2001 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.