US Business Leadership Network
The US Business Leadership Network (USBLN) is the national organization that supports development and expansion of its BLN chapters across the country, serving as their collective voice. It is the only national disability organization led by business for business. The USBLN recognizes and promotes best practices in hiring, retaining, and marketing to people with disabilities.
There are 44 Business Leadership Network chapters in 32 states, including the District of Columbia, representing more than 5,000 employers across the US. The BLN uses a “business to business” approach to educate, promoting the business imperative of including people with disabilities in the workforce. BLN Chapters are business organizations headed by a Lead Business who exemplifies these practices and shares experiences with other members-employers-within the state or region. These activities include career fairs, disability mentoring and internship programs, and training programs including disability business etiquette, accommodation, and other disability issues deemed significant to employers. Businesses join BLN chapters to learn how to expand their diversity recruiting efforts to include individuals with disabilities- not as a social model but as a business case to recruit talent and better serve their customers. BLN successes serve the workplace, the marketplace, the community and the economy.
The USBLN Vision is that every employer recognizes and benefits from the best practice of including people with disabilities in their workforce and marketplace.
The Business Leadership Network was originally established in 1994 through the President’s Committee on Employment with People with Disabilities (PCEPD) with a national business advisory board chaired by Tom Donohue, the President of the US Chamber of Commerce. The network was distributed throughout various governor and mayor committees on disability with the concept that business understands business best, underscoring for the first time that employers should be recognized as valued customers of the vocational rehabilitation system. Chapters, led by large companies including: Medtronic, Motorola, General Motors, and SunTrust Bank; smaller employers: Boddie Noell Enterprises and Oklahoma One Call, universities: The George Washington University, Harvard University, University of Alabama and chambers of commerce in Utah and Maryland, continued to develop based on the principle of “business to business”. Most chapters are volunteer organizations with loaned executives, some are incorporated as 501c3 non profits and some have executive director and/or paid staff. Prior to 2002, there were no national organizational structure guidelines, and chapters were developed based on the regional needs of employers seeking to add individuals with disabilities into their workforce.
With President George W. Bush’s creation of the Office of Disability Employment Policy, a office with an assistant secretary level within the US Department of Labor in 2000, the President’s Committee was abolished. At that time, business leaders within the BLN chapters met at their annual national conference and voted to establish a national trade association known as the US Business Leadership Network which would establish an organizational structure and promote the development and growth of chapters across the US. A steering committee selected by the US Chamber of Commerce from loaned executives based within chapters: SunTrust Bank, Nordstrom, McDonald’s, Oklahoma One-Call, Boddie Noell Enterprises, Motorola, and the US Chamber of Commerce. This steering committee incorporated the USBLN as a 501c6 and has established requirements for chapter development. In 2004, the USBLN chapters elected representatives from chapters across the US to serve as the first USBLN Board of Directors. The induction ceremony was held at the US Chamber of Commerce. Each member serves for 3 years. The officers: President: SunTrust Bank; Vice President: Qualcomm; Secretary: Wachovia Bank: Treasurer: US Chamber of Commerce. Other directors: HarvardUniversity, Wells Fargo, Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, and Medtronic.
The USBLN has established several strategic five year goals:
Build the USBLN into a stable, self-sustaining organization.
The USBLN was created by the chapters to serve the chapters. As such it is imperative that the USBLN grow and develop its own funding sources, educational resources and products and services for its employer members and its chapters. Having a strong national business organization will continue to promote employers across the US to proactively include people with disabilities in the workforce and to serve customers with disabilities in the marketplace. The USBLN business plan, capital campaign and election of additional directors to the board will ensure that chapters have the support and direction to continue to serve the business community.
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Become THE resource for employers
A major objective of the BLN is to foster dialog among employers regarding the issues, sharing successes and overcoming barriers to include people with disabilities in the workforce and marketplace. The USBLN website expansion will allow the exchange of best practices. The employer toolkit and other employer focused products and holding national business events, including the annual national conference, will further this exchange.
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Expand and strengthen chapters
To serve employers across the US, the USBLN must assist in the development of chapters in every state and provide the tools and mechanisms to engage employers. Chapters require ongoing leadership from a national perspective as they serve the business needs within their own geographies.
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Increase employment of people with disabilities
According to a 2006 Associated Press Article, about 56% of adults with disabilities are working. This percentage is in stark contrast the national unemployment level of non-disabled workers which hovers around 5%, or 95% working. The USBLN believes that by achieving the mission of educating business of the business case for including people with disabilities and replacing employers concerns with realities that the employment numbers will increase.