Pioneering New Approaches to Community Building

Even as a child, Carol Coletta questioned the way things were —she preferred to start new groups and clubs rather than join existing ones. That refusal to settle for the status quo has motivated Coletta throughout her career as an advocate and strategist for America’s cities.

Though she only recently took the helm of CEOs for Cities – a group that unites mayors, corporate CEOs and intellectual leaders to help cities meet the challenges of the 21st century – it’s a continuation of work she has been doing in one form or another for 30 years, helping America’s cities roll back decades of decline and reclaim their status as vibrant economic and cultural centers.

“There is no longer any question that cities are the economic engines of the nation,” Coletta says. “The question now is what our cities must do to keep America competitive and innovative in a global economy.”

As president of Coletta & Company, an urban-policy advisory and marketing firm, Coletta pioneered new approaches to building communities across the country, anticipating urban trends and developing action-oriented public policy.

“We need to get out of the silos and look across issues and not be confined to the old definitions about what problems and opportunities are out there,” she says. “My work is all about questions, and I think in many ways that’s what innovation is about.”

That inquisitiveness is evident on “Smart City,” Coletta’s award-winning weekly radio show. Her provocative interviews with public-policy experts, government officials, business leaders and artists have become required listening for those shaping our cities’ futures.

“Sometimes curiosity is not encouraged in business and civic leadership,” Coletta says. “We have been so focused on efficiency that we haven’t always made room for curiosity about doing things differently. We need to encourage a certain amount of risk-taking.”

Coletta has also created and hosted the Memphis Manifesto Summit, which assembled members of the “creative class” to write a call to action for cities; and conceived and wrote the Talent Magnet Report, the first city blueprint aimed at attracting and retaining urban artists, thinkers and entrepreneurs.

Her most recent work at the intersection of government and business includes “The Young and the Restless,” a groundbreaking report on where educated 25-34-year-olds are moving in the United States, and what cities can do to attract future movers and shakers.

“For the first time, we put the attraction and retention of young people on the agenda of civic leaders,” she says.

At CEOs for Cities, Coletta hopes to focus attention on the opportunities and challenges cities currently face. Bringing elected officials together with corporate leaders and intellectuals, the organization seeks to strengthen urban economies through an exchange and application of best practices, ideas and advocacy.

“The challenges in urban leadership are so great” – given term limits for elected officials and shorter tenures for corporate CEOs – “that it’s very tough to strike and maintain a public-private partnership over time,” Coletta explains. “Yet that’s just what cities need to be successful. We try to help our members understand that and do a better job with it.”