It means that 1,300 well-paid, management types from around the country will be transferred to Chicago, earning and spending their paychecks in the city and the region.
The city's newly-elected mayor was on hand to help make the announcement and to earn some political points for himself.
The mayor took as much credit as he could for convincing United Continental to move the 1,300 employees to Chicago. Mayor Emanuel said he first met with airline executives after his election last February.
"One, we had a very good meeting. Second is persistence, and third is persuasiveness," Emanuel said. "And I won't let go when I set a goal."
Chicago-based United and Houston-based Continental merged last year. The decision to move so many employees -- most of them managers -- to Chicago signals the new company will centralize its operations in Illinois as opposed to Texas.
"We've got 14,000 employees in the greater Chicago area. We'll have over 4,000 downtown," said United CEO Jeff Smisek.
The United announcement came barely 48 hours after the CME Group, one of the nation's largest securities trading companies, announced it might leave Chicago because of this year's Illinois corporate income tax increase.
Governor Pat Quinn issued a statement praising the United decision, writing, "It demonstrates that Illinois is the premier state in the Midwest for businesses from around the world."
"I believe that Illinois has a good future," Smisek said. "There are tough actions that have to be taken, but I believe Illinois will take those tough actions."
Many of the airline workers will move to the Chicago area from Houston, San Francisco, Denver and other hubs for both United and Continental.
Last month, during his first week in office, Emanuel announced that GE Capital was adding 1,000 jobs in Chicago. Friday, the mayor also announced the city would host an international aviation conference sometime within the next three months. The goal, he said, is to maintain Chicago's world leadership in the industry.
"I want to make sure that we're making the right decisions and investing in the right areas to keep a competitive edge," said Emanuel. "Today, you just can't hold the leadership, you've gotta work towards keeping it."
The mayor says he will have similar announcements to make in the coming weeks involving other companies and other industries.