The downtown of this northeast Alabama community of 6,600 looks like a Hollywood version of a sleepy Southern town. Squat buildings line clean streets dotted here and there by benches on wide sidewalks, and there isn't a parking meter anywhere.
Not much is moving along Main Street on a recent afternoon. Several storefronts are shuttered. The recession is taking its toll: The county unemployment rate — which had risen when the nearby steel plant closed at the start of the decade — is now 9.6%, compared with the U.S. rate of 8.9% in April.
So when the state announced that some of Alabama's federal stimulus money would be used to re-pave Interstate 59 through Etowah County just outside town, some here, such as former Attalla mayor Larry Means, expected a jobs boomlet, at least for the two years or so that it will take to resurface the 11-mile stretch of highway.
Those expectations were soon dashed. State pride had to take a back seat to a growing new reality in the world of road-building, and Alabamians watched as the largest state stimulus project announced to date went to an out-of-state company.