Inclusive Business Community Can Build Vibrant Mahoning Valley

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Supporting entrepreneurs of color, whether through patronizing their businesses, collaborating with them or providing them the tools and education to further their work, can help build a vibrant business community throughout the region.

“An inclusive business system brings prosperity and change. It’ll allow us to create more jobs that people are more likely to stay at because you become like a family. Creating these businesses and including one another would create a change in the atmosphere,” said Ra’Cole Taltoan, owner of Rockbrook Business Services, during a livestreamed conversation with The Business Journal on Tuesday.

The discussion, which can be watched HERE, also featured Tanisha Wheeler, the Youngstown Business Incubator’s director of curriculum development and leader of its Youth in Entrepreneurship program. The two sat down with special projects editor Josh Medore to discuss what help entrepreneurs of color need, how the business community can support them and why inclusion matters in business. Both are featured in the August edition’s front-page story, available to read now online and in the print edition that hits mailboxes this week.

“Over 40% of Youngstown are minorities. The Black dollar is so powerful,” Wheeler said. “If we can circulate that money back into our own community, then economic development becomes less of a problem, the education system is less of a problem, the crime rate becomes less of a problem. It all cycles back to economics, so if that money we’re spending at big stores goes to someone down the street it can regenerate within the community.”

Among the common barriers both Taltoan and Wheeler see in their work with entrepreneurs is a lack of education, both about the basics of running a business and the services that exist across the Mahoning Valley to guide them. Organizations like the YBI, Rockbrook, Oak Hill Collaborative, Score, Valley Economic Development Partners and local banks all have teams that can provide help.

“We’re at a point right now where there are opportunities out there for us, but if you open a business and don’t have bank statements for the past five years, there’s not much you can access. We can’t just assume that people know. It’s not a Black or White thing; it’s an education thing,” Wheeler said.

After a year of protests and discussions around social justice, both say the enthusiasm around supporting minority-owned businesses hasn’t waned. But the business community still has an ongoing role to support such companies.

“If the people who hold the power aren’t exchanging that power to smaller businesses – especially minority-owned businesses – then it’s hard to gain traction,” Wheeler said. “Large businesses can hire small businesses for the services they provide. That’s cut and dry, straight to the point. If you have a contract and you need someone to do something, look at that small company and consider someone who’s just coming into the field with that hunger and desire.”

Collaboration, Taltoan added, is an important aspect as well. She points to the work of Lorri Franklin and the Women in Business events she hosts (READ MORE) as providing a platform for entrepreneurs of color to get their foot in the door and promote their business.

“We made great strides last year. There are people I want to thank because they gave minority entrepreneurs great platforms to get their products out there,” Taltoan said. “If you feel invested in something, you’ll participate and act accordingly. People don’t feel invested. They don’t feel like city government cares. They don’t feel included in what’s going on. Until they feel included, I don’t think they’ll work as hard. With inclusion comes investment.”

The August issue of The Business Journal is serving as the launch of our new diversity, equity and inclusion platform. Aimed at developing a more diverse range of voices in our print editions and website, this is the beginning of our ongoing effort. You can read more about why we’re undertaking this effort in our editorial from this issue.

We’ve added our diversity, equity and inclusion statement to BusinessJournalDaily.com and will soon be launching the Minority Business Directory, a free resource for both entrepreneurs of color and those looking to shop and work with those companies. Registration is free at BusinessJournalDaily.com/minority-business-directory

Finally, this work toward a more equitable business community can’t be accomplished without you. If there are stories that we’re missing or minority-owned businesses we should be talking to, let us know by emailing special projects editor Josh Medore at jmedore@business-journal.com

Pictured: Business Journal special projects editor Josh Medore talks with YBI director of curriculum development Tanisha Wheeler and Rockbrook Business Services owner Ra’Cole Taltoan during a conversation on diversity.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.