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Major tech companies Google, Amazon, Uber give back to Pittsburgh

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Winners of the Google.org Impact Challenge Pittsburgh pose for a photo during an event honoring them Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018 at Google's offices in Bakery Square. (Photo by Aaron Aupperlee)
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Google.org presented winners of its Impact Challenge Pittsburgh with glass cubes and $50,000. (Photo by Aaron Aupperlee)

Even before Amazon moved into its offices at SouthSide Works, a small group of its employees were volunteering at Community Human Services’ food pantry.

When the office opened, Amazon donated $10,000 to the Oakland-based nonprofit. And when Amazon recently announced it was expanding its office and hiring 125 more people, the company made another $10,000 donation.

“They’re doing really good work,” said Bill Kaper, head of Amazon’s Pittsburgh office, calling the organization that helps to feed, house and educate more than 8,000 families and children in Allegheny County each year exactly the kind of grass-roots project the company wants to support.

As major tech companies set up engineering centers and offices in Pittsburgh, residents and city leaders fret about whether they will invest in the community. Are the companies here simply to harvest talent from University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University or will they give back and become involved in the city?

Last week, three of the highest-profile companies with offices in Pittsburgh took steps to show that they are here to more than just take advantage of talent.

Amazon’s donation last week to Community Human Services followed an event the day before where Google awarded $50,000 to the four Pittsburgh nonprofits that won the Google.org Impact Challenge Pittsburgh. Uber on Thursday opened the doors of its Advanced Technologies Group headquarters for the premiere of a video by Junior Achievement about opportunities in Pittsburgh.

The donations and events come as the three companies, worth a combined $1.6 trillion, and other tech companies in the city have — sometimes quietly — become more involved in the community.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, perhaps the loudest public official calling for the city’s tech industry to give back and support the city as whole, said he’s noticed increased engagement over the last 18 months or so.

“I think it’s breaking out of the Silicon Valley bubble,” Peduto said as he left the event at Google. “Places like Pittsburgh and Detroit have a different core. … A base that’s more civic-minded.”

Peduto said that as tech companies mature, they realize that there is more to calling a city home than simply having an office there.

Google has a team of employees that look for opportunities to volunteer in the Pittsburgh community. The work often happens without announcements or press releases.

Uber, whose on-again, off-again relationship with the city appears to have stabilized in recent months, has been involved with Junior Achievement, the local FIRST robotics competition, the Pittsburgh chapter of the March of Dimes and a sponsorship with Bike Pittsburgh. The company is providing 50 of its drivers $500 toward tuition, textbooks and other fees at the Community College of Allegheny County and will host Girls Who Code, the Homeless Children’s Education Fund and other groups in the coming weeks.

Sarah Abboud, a spokeswoman for Uber’s ATG in Pittsburgh, said the employees and company feel strongly about giving back.

Amazon employees in Pittsburgh started volunteering with Community Human Services after the company acquired Shoefitr, a Pittsburgh startup that used 3-D technology to help people buy better-fitting shoes online. Kaper said Shoefitr employees had already worked with the nonprofit and Amazon continued the relationship.

Amazon has also helped out with the Carnegie Science Center‘s Girls Rock Science event, a weekend of STEM-related activities for girls, and participated in Toys for Tots and Project Bundle Up.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected], 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.

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