The Montana Business Enterprise Program (MBEP) provides assistance and support to legally blind residents of the state in securing remunerative employment, enlarged economic opportunities, and increased self-support through the operation of vending facilities on federal, state and other properties. The program provides many benefits to Montana, chief among them a reduction in the dependence of blind vendors on federal and state and sighted individuals.
The new blind vendors program was designed to operate as much as possible like a private, entrepreneurial vending company. The program¹s business focus is on providing vending services on federal, state and other properties throughout Montana, with particular emphasis on operation of vending machine facilities. Each licensed vendor in the program operates a franchised vending business in a specific area of the State while MBEP assigns facilities, oversees their operation, and provides technical and business support to each business.
Becoming a Blind Vendor
To qualify for employment as a blind vendor, a person must be certified as legally blind and successfully complete an intensive two- to three-month training program. Once training is completed, a newly licensed vendor is assigned to a vending facility or route as they become available. A vendor can operate either singly or as part of a vending team and will develop and operate one or more vending machine routes or facilities.
The Montana Business Enterprise Program carries out three basic business activities:
- Operation of vending machine and food service facilities by licensed blind vendors on federal, state and other properties.
- Administration of vending facilities on State properties properties that are determined to be appropriate and necessary to the business enterprise program.
- Provision of initial training to new vendor candidates.
The blind vendors program was originally established by the Federal Randolph-Sheppard Act in 1936. This statute provides an "absolute priority" for licensed blind vendors to operate vending facilities on federally owned and leased property. In 1981, the Montana Blind Vendors Act was passed in order to provide a similar priority on state owned and leased properties. The primary focus of the program in those days was on live vending stands (e.g., snack bars, cafeterias, etc.). In 1985, funding for the program was eliminated and it became dormant. It was restarted in 2000, largely in response to a resolution passed by the Montana Association for the Blind, and began active vending operations about a year later.
The state agency responsible for MBEP is the Blind and Low Vision Services program (BLVS) in the Disability Services Division of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS). In re-establishing the program, BLVS chose to contract with Montana Business Enterprises, Inc. (MBEI), a non-profit corporation, to serve as its "nominee agency" and provide day-to-day program management, administration and business support services to licensed vendors.
Mission, Vision, and Guiding Principles
MBEP's mission is to provide blind and visually impaired persons in Montana with opportunities for stable, remunerative employment, enlarged economic opportunities, and increased self-support, and to provide its customers with the highest quality products and services.
MBEP's vision is a significant decrease in the unemployment and dependency rates of blind and visually impaired people in Montana.
MBEP's guiding principles are:
- Integrity, Ethics and Professionalism. Support a culture of integrity, ethical conduct, and consummate professionalism.
- Customer Service and Satisfaction. Maintain a strong customer focus that is responsive to customer needs and encourages two-way communication.
- Financial Strength and Stability. Always strive for a strong financial position to ensure long-term stability and financial solvency.
- Performance-Driven and Team-Based Organizational Culture. Foster a performance-driven organizational culture that is based on professionalism and teamwork and is highly conducive to the vocational growth of our employees.
- Effective Communications. Foster an environment conducive to effective and clear communication both inside and outside the organization.
Key Program and Business Goals
- Establish eight profitable vending businesses operated by licensed blind vendors by 2008.
- Create 12 to 15 full-time vending and management positions for blind and visually impaired Montanans by 2008.
- Establish and maintain a system that provides for the efficient administration of vending facilities on State properties.