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Kroger eyes homegrown tech talent

Retailer teams with University of Cincinnati on innovation lab

The Kroger Co. is backing up its growing technology investment with efforts to bolster its IT prowess.

Kroger yesterday said it plans to operate an innovation lab at the University of Cincinnati (UC) 1819 Innovation Hub. Under the agreement, the Cincinnati-based supermarket giant will staff the lab with resources, including research-and-development engineers and software developers, alongside university faculty. The initiative also includes a student co-op and internship program.

"Kroger's new partnership with the University of Cincinnati is one more way we are investing to create the now and future of retail," Chris Hjelm (left), executive vice president and chief information officer at Kroger, said in a statement. "This innovative collaboration is driven by Restock Kroger and provides the Kroger Technology team another creative space to partner and develop solutions to redefine the grocery customer experience." 

Located in Cincinnati’s Uptown Innovation Corridor, the 1819 Innovation Hub serves as a focal point of community innovation and impact in partnership with higher education, according to Kroger and UC. The four-story building — which officially opened this week for the fall semester — houses a 12,000-square-feet makerspace and micro-factory, state-of-the-art classrooms and multipurpose rooms.

"The 1819 Innovation Hub is a co-working community where we will build and discover the next generation of technology and talent," Hjelm added. "Our vision is to create a talent pipeline that supports our business and positions the region as a place for digital and technology students and professionals."

Construction of Kroger's 2,500-square-feet innovation lab, to be located on the third floor, is under way and slated for completion in October.

"Working with a hometown company and one of the world's largest retailers gives our university an opportunity to make an impact not only locally but also globally,” UC President Neville Pinto commented. “This is the kind of partnership that allows our students and faculty to work on real-world challenges in a cross-disciplinary way, while offering our corporate partners added value with access to talent, expertise, research, creativity, and specialized equipment and technology."

In late June, Kroger announced that it will move its digital headquarters to downtown Cincinnati. The company in July started shifting about 500 jobs from its Blue Ash, Ohio, technology campus — which houses its digital customer team (including mobile and e-commerce) — and another 100 digital jobs from its general offices on Vine Street in Cincinnati to the new Atrium Two digital headquarters. Plans call for Kroger to ramp up its current digital team of 500 associates to 1,000 by 2020.

The retailer also noted that its Kroger Technology unit partners with the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber's "Cincy is IT" effort to draw top tech talent, and the company supports Cincinnati-based Cintrifuse, a public-private partnership to spur innovation via start-ups.

Other Kroger tech campuses include its 200,000-square-foot data and systems operations center in Blue Ash; 84.51° consumer analytics arm in downtown Cincinnati; You Technology digital coupons and promotions unit in Brisbane, Calif.; and Vitacost health and wellness e-commerce subsidiary in Boca Raton, Fla.

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