Research Park gains new business partner


By Jessica Berbey, Assistant Daytime Editor

Graybar, in collaboration with the University, announced on Monday the grand-opening of the Graybar Innovation Lab at Research Park.

Graybar is a Fortune 500 corporation and one of the largest employee-owned companies in North America. It is a leader in the distribution of high-quality electrical, communications and data networking products, and specializes in related supply chain management and logistics services.

Through this new facility, Graybar will work with University students and faculty to develop industry-leading digital capabilities that strengthen its position in the supply chain.

Graybar was initially founded for innovation 150 years ago, and through the new lab, digital transformation will be accelerated by combining leading-edge technology with new ideas from University students and faculty.

“I’m excited to see how this collaboration will drive supply chain innovation and raise the bar for our entire industry,” said Kathleen Mazzarella, Graybar chairman, president and CEO, in a press release.

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The Graybar Innovation Lab at Research Park will provide both part-time and full-time positions for undergraduate and graduate students, allowing for the opportunity to familiarize themselves with Graybar and the wholesale distribution industry.

“We will spend a substantial amount of time on advanced analytics,” said David Meyer, chief information officer for Graybar.

Graybar will also focus on other disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, said Meyer.

“The general premise is to drive innovation back into Graybar and essentially try to disrupt ourselves,” he said.

Graybar is planning on hiring ten interns who will work on a variety of used cases where new technologies come into play. By interacting with those capabilities, they hope to not only advance their core, but also enroll new ideas into their business, unconvering things that they may not be thinking about today, which would become a value to Graybar moving forward.

“We are hoping to leverage students who we can present with problems that our current business activity faces and have them take a different approach and offer a different perspective on how we can potentially solve those problems or opportunities as they arise,” Meyer said.

“Research Park is, in itself, innovative,” said Laura Frerichs, director of University of Illinois Research Park. “It is doing something that doesn’t exist around the country at other universities.”

Research park includes more than 100 companies located on campus. By creating a technology community that includes major corporations and startup companies, the employment of students is one of the reasons they are here.

“They see students as being a key portion of talent that will drive new products for their businesses,” Frerichs said.

More than 600 students work in Research Park every year while they are in school, which allows them to make money, work for leading corporations, contribute to cutting-edge technologies and still pursue a full-time education here at the University.

Graybar contacted the University of Illinois Research Park in June 2016. By the fall of 2016, they made the decision to open the lab, choosing the University as a strategic location.

“Graybar is using techniques similar to Amazon to modernize supply chain and change their business,” Frerich said. “By understanding what customers need earlier, they can get it to them on a more efficient basis.”

Students interested in working for Graybar, or for any of the other companies in Research Park, should check the Research Park job board for employment opportunities. Internships for Graybar will begin on May 15 and will last for an entire year.

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