Rockbrook Builds Foundation for Black Wealth

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – From a small building on Garland Avenue, RaCole Taltoan hopes to help her community build a foundation so it can create wealth. 

Earlier this year, Taltoan, founder of Rockbrook Business Services, bought the lone remaining structure at the site of the former McGuffey Plaza on the east side of Youngstown. In the five years since she founded Rockbrook, the business has primarily offered accounting, bookkeeping, payroll and startup services.  

Now, out of the new space that she’ll move into later this year, her company will expand into credit and wealth-building classes, setting clients on the path to building wealth. 

“Having a financial foundation helps them get those things in the future. They can get a stock portfolio. They can acquire land,” Taltoan says. “They can sit at some of these tables. Without it, you’re stuck at the table where you are.” 

A study published in February by the Brookings Institution found that the median wealth of a white family is $171,000, while for Black families, that number is $17,150. The gap exists at every income level, except for the bottom quintile of household income – where median net worth is $0 for both white and Black people – and expands exponentially as income increases. For those in the top 10% of household income, the average Black family’s net worth is $343,160, compared to $1.8 million for white families. Even with college degrees, the racial wealth gap persists at similar rates. 

“Wealth is a safety net that keeps a life from being derailed by temporary setbacks and the loss of income. This safety net allows people to take career risks knowing that they have a buffer when success is not immediately achieved,” the Brookings report states. “Family wealth allows people (especially young adults who have recently entered the labor force) to access housing in safe neighborhoods with good schools, thereby enhancing the prospects of their own children. Wealth affords people opportunities to be entrepreneurs and inventors.” 

In short, wealth is a cumulative effect. White families statistically leave larger inheritances to the next generation. Black homeownership is around 44%, according to a first-quarter Census Bureau report, but 74% for white families. A report by the Economic Policy Group found that upward of two-thirds of wealth is in housing equity, 

The first step in building Black wealth, Taltoan says, is by building – or rebuilding – credit and providing education on how to run a business. To help her, Taltoan is hiring a CPA. An employee is currently working to be certified as a QuickBooks ProAdvisor. Taltoan herself is also working to become certified as an enrolled agent.  

With those skills combined, Rockbrook will be able to show entrepreneurs what they need to do to operate their business properly. For those without the capital to keep Rockbrook on retainer to continually advise them, Taltoan also offers two- and four-hour classes where she teaches them the basics of how to keep their own books and records. 

“A lot of startups can’t afford an accountant, so they’re keeping track of their [own] money. It gets frustrating and they stop. They get what they get and put it in their pocket,” she says. “It’s not documented or deposited into a bank account. There’s no documentation how the government wants you to do it. That’s the biggest education piece.” 

Taltoan began doing her family’s taxes when she was 18, started offering her services to friends and other family members in 2011 and launched Rockbrook in 2015. She acknowledges that she didn’t always take the right steps to launch her business. Even the process of purchasing her building, which she started in January, was filled with new experiences that she hopes to pass on to those who look to build their own wealth and businesses. 

“I don’t want anyone else to have to take 4 1/2 years to get something like that,” she says. “As an entrepreneur, there were bumps and hurdles that I had. I, thank God, was able to maneuver through. But I noticed other people in my community had a harder time maneuvering and they were likely to give up. Some of them were my own clients.” 

Through running her own business, Taltoan is on the cusp of taking the first step to create wealth. The third generation of her family to live in public housing, she’s close to starting construction on a new home for herself.  

“I always wanted my kids to know that it’s not where you are; it’s where you’re going. This is a stepping stone that will help you get to the next level,” she says. “Just because we’re here, it doesn’t mean we can’t have things like this. We can own real estate.” 

Maybe, if she can help clients to reach their goals, Taltoan says, it can create lasting change on the East Side. 

“If you can get 10 to 20 people together with decent credit, we could do something like buy the McGuffey Plaza,” she says. “Imagine what we’d be able to do with that. The foundation is the key to everything else.” 

Pictured: RaCole Taltoan is sharing business lessons she learned since opening her firm.  

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.