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Greensboro is hunting big game in its bid for a United Airlines maintenance facility.

With an estimated value of $500 million and a work force of 5,000 to 7,000 employees, the facility is the country's largest economic-development project in the works that's yet to be located. And Greensboro's Piedmont Triad International Airport is one of only nine hunters that still have a shot at it.``This is one of the big buffaloes,' said Mac Williams, economic developer for the Greensboro Area Chamber of Commerce. ``This is the largest project of this magnitude for which we have gotten this close as a contender.'

In December, United announced that Greensboro was among nine sites under consideration for the facility. The nine have loaded up an assortment of expensive lures - most run about $50 million - in an effort to catch the big one.

In recent years, the Triad has won such big economic-development prizes as Greensboro's American Express Travel Related Services Co. and R.J. Reynolds' cigarette plant at Tobaccoville. American Express employs about 2,500; Reynolds' Tobaccoville plant northwest of Winston-Salem employs about 2,000.

The United facility would offer double or triple the employment of those operations. Economic development officials say no other project in the area's history rivals the size of the proposed United facility.

Bob Leak, business-development manager for the business recruiter Winston-Salem Business Inc., said it's hard to think of a project that could compare with a half-billion-dollar enterprise.

``The impact of that type of dollar investment ... rolls back into the community in other ways, all the way down to the fast-food hamburger that the employees buy at lunchtime.'

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