Amazon will land with a splash when it builds a tech hub in downtown Nashville. But the company, known for its relentless pursuit of innovation, has already been threatening to encroach on the city's leading industry — health care.
Health care analysts and executives have been listening for Amazon's every word. The company — which has already transformed so many industries — announced a nebulous plan in January to jump into health care alongside JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway.
"Health care is going to be one of those industries that is going to be elevated and be better by machine learning and artificial intelligence," Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said in 2017. "We do have people at Amazon thinking about that. But it would be going too far to say we have a vision. But we're working on having a vision in that arena."
Company officials didn't reference Nashville's concentration of hospital and health IT firms when they announced 5,000 new logistics jobs on Tuesday. And asked about the connection, an Amazon spokesperson tells WPLN only that there was "a special focus on talent."
The company is at least aware of the city's central role in the industry. Amazon Web Services, the company's dominant cloud computing arm, officially joined as a member of the Nashville Health Care Council in recent years.
And Paul Keckley, an industry researcher and analyst, says the local concentration of health care corporate headquarters had to be a draw.
"I'm confident that this thing is not coincidental about Nashville but that's going to be a lab," Keckley says. "They'll learn a lot about this industry by interacting with these companies. And they'll go in the door saying, 'We can help with cost.'"
Amazon staffers would need only to walk down the street from their planned 1 million-square-foot office to meet with the nation's largest hospital chain, HCA. The for-profit health care giant says in a statement that it welcomes the much larger tech titan.
"This is another example that this is a highly attractive place for top companies that are expanding their operations," CEO Milton Johnson said in a statement to WPLN. "This is big win for our city."
While there is potential for head-to-head competition, Amazon's interest in reshaping the American health care system could also benefit hospital chains, says former HCA executive Charlie Martin, who started and sold his own Nashville-based hospital chain.
"HCA and other organizations can work with them to basically neutralize the impact of the big stuff [Amazon] could do and let [Amazon] have the crumbs around the edges," Martin says.
Some established companies will be protective, says the Jumpstart Foundry CEO Vic Gatto, who invests in promising health care startups. He says newer business models that have been built in the age of Amazon are more excited about the new neighbor.
"Any of the innovative, kind of change-agent aspect in health care love new players coming in," Gatto says.
And Amazon is likely more willing to shake up the city's health care sector than entrenched companies, he says. "I think it's going to be healthy to have that inflow of thought and outside thinking."