Officials pushing Newark for Amazon health care project

Government, health care sectors have already reached out; NJII could give city an edge

By Tom Bergeron
Newark | Feb 2, 2018 at 11:43 am

State and Newark officials have talked about how preparing their proposal for Amazon’s HQ2 project would help them be in position for other possibilities down the road.

They just didn’t realize one could come so quickly — and potentially from the same company: Amazon.

Wednesday’s announcement that Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway were going to launch an innovative health care company created a buzz in the business world.

And while details of the proposed company are still vague, two points are clear: The company figures to need a headquarters, and it figures to be innovative (or disruptive) to the health care industry.

The heads of the proposed company have not put out a request for proposals for any potential headquarters. In fact, they haven’t even said they are looking for one.

But that hasn’t stopped New Jersey officials from trying to make a case for the state.

ROI-NJ has learned that representatives from the state and some of its top health care officials already have reached out to officials of the three companies in an effort to pitch Newark and New Jersey as a landing spot if one is needed.

No one was willing to speak publicly on the efforts due to the sensitivity of the issue, but the attributes the city of Newark and the state can offer go without saying, as they are similar to the city’s Amazon bid: plenty of (affordable) office space, a skilled workforce, top universities and high-speed internet.

When it comes to health care innovation, however, Newark has one additional trump card: the Agile Strategy Lab at the New Jersey Innovation Institute.

The lab, on the campus of New Jersey Institute of Technology, is a national leader in health care innovation.

And while its leaders, Tomas Gregorio, senior executive director, Healthcare Delivery Systems iLab at NJII, and Tom Bartiromo, chief innovation officer for NJII, have not reached out directly to Amazon, they would love to have a chance to chat.

They feel their group can bring a lot to the project.

“We’ve been able to be successful because of capital from grants and things that we create and innovate ourselves,” Gregorio said. “What this would do, would increase the ability to raise capital and attention to an industry ripe for change.”

In 2015, NJII received a $49.5 million grant from the federal government to improve clinical care practices.

When the announcement was made Wednesday, both Gregorio and Bartiromo said they began to think of how much could be done when you bring these three powerhouse companies together with the balance sheet, influence and the ability to execute.

“Amazon alone is a strong disruptor with whatever they set their attention to,” Bartiromo said. “Now, you take something like an Amazon, Berkshire and JPMorgan, where they represent over a million covered lives in terms of employees, and you’ve really got something.”

“Relative to all Americans, there are over 150 million Americans getting insurance through their employers. They are not going to move the needle heavily in that. But where they are going to absolutely move the needle is whatever they set their attention to with this company. They will disrupt in some way, shape or form.”

Gregorio sees the new company as having the potential to be the ultimate testing site.

“The fact that they have a million (covered lives) means they consume a lot of health care resources,” he said. “And their ability to do all of the technical things that you need to do to be able to measure, track and trend that patient population, and their willingness to make an investment in doing that population management of their own population, can drive innovation and things that you can do in the marketplace.”

Newark and NJIT/NJII are in the perfect position to help, they both said.

“We’re one of 32 polytechnic universities in the country and 33 percent of our staff is either former or current NJIT students that we orientate into the (health information technology) world,” Gregorio said.

While Bartiromo and Gregorio are eager to pitch all that NJII has to offer, they also are willing to be patient.

They know NJIT President Joel Bloom has been an active participant in the Amazon proposal process. And they are confident that they would be part of any conversation about bringing an innovative health care company to Newark.

Gregorio is eager to do so.

“It would be amazing for what we are doing,” he said. “Really cutting-edge. With what Gov. (Phil) Murphy wants to do in innovation, especially in our space, where we have so much going on right now, it would be amazing.

“We hope to really get in front of these folks when they get everything together.

“In our world, you can do anything with time, money and experience. With that money, they can buy experience and the time. It’s a very exciting announcement.”