STORE giant Ikea is identifying sites in Exeter to create a major new outlet in the city, the Echo can reveal.
It is refusing to confirm where it wants to build the store and when it would open.
But city council leaders have welcomed its growing interest in the city.
And business representatives said the store would provide a major jobs boost for Exeter.
A spokeswoman for Ikea told the Echo it had "nothing to confirm at this point in time" about the exact location of a site in Exeter.
But she added: "Ikea has been identifying sites around the country for potential stores – including the area of Exeter."
Councillor Pete Edwards, leader of Exeter City Council, said: "It would be great news for Exeter if Ikea were to come to the city. I know there are many people who would love to see an Ikea store here, and the arrival of such a popular retailer would be yet further evidence that Exeter is bucking the trend in this recession.
"With John Lewis about to open in the city centre next month Exeter will become the place to shop in the South West, and the arrival of Ikea would just further underline that."
Derek Phillips, vice-president of the Exeter Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the prospect of many new jobs for the city if Ikea comes to Exeter.
Mr Phillips said: "Any increase in jobs for Exeter is very good news. Ikea will look for a site close to the motorway as people tend to go to Ikea and then go home so it will not have the same effect for the other local retailers that John Lewis will in bringing people into the city centre.
"However, Ikea would be a great addition to Exeter and would create several hundred jobs I would think."
Ikea was locked in discussions with the city council in the summer of 2001, but the plans failed to progress because the retailer was looking for a site of between 10 and 20 acres which, at that time, the city council was unable to identify.
The spokeswoman for Ikea said another large space would be required for a move to the city.
She said: "On average, Ikea stores are approximately 20,000 to 40,000 square metres. This means most sites capable of accommodating an Ikea store are naturally based out of city centres.
"Decades of retailing experience, worldwide, have proven that Ikea stores need to be given ample space to present the 9,500 home furnishing products across the various areas of the home to meet the needs of Ikea visitors."
Ikea was launched 70 years ago in a small farming village in Sweden. It has grown to become one of the biggest home furnishing retailers in the world with more than 150 stores in 29 countries. The company opened its first UK store in 1987.