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CHARLOTTE-Even with slowing retail sales in the United States, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. plans to open more than 300 stores next year and build additional distribution centers. Real estate sources say the company is considering sites in the North Carolina counties of Rowan, Cleveland and Stanley for a $65 million, 1.2 million-sf distribution center.

The retailer is reportedly focusing on sites away from the interstate to save on land costs. Wal-Mart builds about 10 distribution centers per year.

The site will require at least 150 acres for an operation that could employ 1,000 workers. Local industry sources speculate the project could be as large as 225 acres to accommodate an operation that is expected to handle 800 tractor-trailer shipments per week.

Wal-Mart officials at the chain’s Bentonville, AR headquarters would not discuss the project.

Wal-Mart is the largest employer in the Carolinas, with about 57,000 employees at 187 stores and five distribution centers.

According to Frank Warren, president of Karnes Research Co., the Charlotte area is attracting an increasingly larger number of distribution centers because the region will be more closely linked to Charlotte after the Interstate 485 loop is completed in 2004.

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