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Nick Hanauer
Nick Hanauer

Is Amazon.com doing enough to support its hometown? That question has been raised many times over the years, with local publications like The Stranger and The Seattle Times ripping the online retailer for essentially being a scrooge when it comes to corporate giving and engagement in Seattle.

In a poll last year following The Seattle Times’ four-part series, 45 percent of GeekWire readers said that Amazon.com should work harder to be a better corporate citizen in Seattle.

And now one of the company’s earliest investors, angel investor and political activist Nick Hanauer, says he’s disappointed that the company he helped get off the ground hasn’t done more to give back.

“It’s disappointing,” said Hanauer, speaking on this weekend’s episode of the GeekWire podcast. “I think that Amazon could be far more engaged in the civic community, and I think that the community would benefit massively from it.”

Hanauer, who has since sold his Amazon.com stock, continued:

“There’s a broadly-held view that communities somehow take care of themselves, and if we just go to work everyday and run our businesses, everything will be fine. But I don’t share that view. I think great communities are built deliberately with people, and particularly people in leadership positions engaging in the important issues and processes that make the community go. I realize that they are very busy building one of the biggest companies in the world, but I certainly wish that they did more civically in the area and believe, if they did, we’d all benefit from it.”

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Nick Hanauer and Rich Barton

Asked whether the Amazon philosophy is tied to founder Jeff Bezos’ libertarian beliefs, Hanauer said that may be the case. However, he said it also could be part of Bezos’ “insanely relentless focus.”

“That’s just a big part of his DNA, just his almost supernatural ability to focus on whatever it is he wants to make happen, at the exclusion of almost everything else,” says Hanauer.

Zillow co-founder Rich Barton, who appeared on the show with Hanauer, said that he recalls Bill Gates being criticized in the early 1990s for not giving back enough.

“His response was: ‘Just give me a little time, and let me do my business thing here, and just wait.’ And, you know what, look at what’s happened. Look at the Gates Foundation,” said Barton.

You can listen to the back-and-forth about Amazon in minute 32 of the podcast below, which then leads into a discussion about politics. We’ll have more from the show in follow-up posts throughout the week.

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