HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – It was a big year for many cities in the Tennessee Valley, but especially Huntsville, as it claimed the title for the state’s largest city.

Area leaders reflected on 2021 and how they plan to keep up the momentum in 2022.

As leaders began to analyze the numbers for 2021, they’re not surprised to see evidence of Huntsville’s rapid growth.

“Our labor force just since June has grown by about 5,000 people, so we’re seeing people move to the area and come into our jobs which is a great thing,” Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President of Economic Development Lucia Cape said.

News 19 also spoke with councilmember Frances Akridge, who announced late last year she will not seek to reclaim her seat in District 2 this coming election.

She says some important decisions in council for her have included things like increasing the budget for road re-paving and securing more funding for greenway and sidewalk improvements.

“To stay healthy, we need to walk. To keep businesses viable, we need to walk,” Akridge said.

She says looking forward, there is a larger goal to get Huntsville more walkable, especially downtown, to accommodate a growing population.

She says a big project for entire council has been watching is the progress on the amphitheater at MidCity.

Akridge said it could take about six years to see its revenue trickle back into the community, but when it does, she says it pads the budget for infrastructural improvements, like new road and stormwater management, but she says there’s an even bigger picture for investments like these.

“Huntsville has to be fun, Huntsville has to be unique. We have to have our own unique selling proposition, so that’s why we’ve invested in a lot of things like the amphitheater, Joe Davis Stadium, improving John Hunt Park to be a regional attraction. So that way when people come here, they’re thinking, they look around them. They see the mountains, the exuberance, the excitement. They want more of that. It’s a feeling that we’re after,” Akridge said.

The overall goal in these types of projects is to bring in even more people, but particularly those of one age group.

“We, collectively, including the Chamber of Commerce, including other business associations, are always thinking about how to attract [young professionals] and keep them, so it’s not just considered, ‘oh what a nice place to raise a child,'” she said.

According to Lucia Cape, Chamber of Commerce Senior VP of Economic Development, people are responding.

“The projections for the Huntsville metro are very strong as well, and we’re expected to outpace the national growth in the next 5 years,” Cape said.

Akridge said one of the biggest challenges the city will face with this growth is housing.

“It’s how to minimize the effects of rising incomes and rising rents. It’s going to happen, and you know what? It affects everybody,” Akridge said. “Both a diverse stock of housing to own and to rent is critical.”

Cape said one of their main goals going forward is taking what was done right during the pandemic, and using those same tools in the future.

“I think what we’ve shown is that we’re persevering and we’re continuing to grow the economy and keep people safe and work together to make sure the impacts aren’t going to be as devastating as they were back in March of 2020,” Cape said.