Dick and Betsy DeVos have devoted much of their adult lives to producing real change in the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The couple are well-known within their state as providing mega donations to the GOP. As major donors to the party, their political influence can be seen in significant changes in state laws that have affected both labor and education.
One of the earliest instances of Dick DeVos exerting major influence in the Grand Rapids area came in 1991. At the time, investors in Grand Rapids were planning on building a multi-purpose arena that would house both sports and convention gatherings. The location being considered was right in the middle of downtown Grand Rapids.
Dick DeVos was not in favor of that planned expansion. According to DeVos, he was worried about the potential detrimental affect that the convention center might have on the downtown area. DeVos compared the potential convention center’s construction to the construction of the Pontiac Silverdome and Palace of Auburn Hills in Detroit. Downtown Detroit experienced a profound loss when the Lions and Pistons left the city. DeVos did not want the same fate falling upon Grand Rapids with the building of the multipurpose convention center.
Although DeVos was still working on making his way to the position of CEO in Amway Corp., a company owned by his family, he immediately started a lobby campaign against the convention center’s opening. As a result of DeVos’ campaign efforts, a group of business leaders formed Grand Action, which in turn paved the way for several construction projects in Grand Rapids. The construction of the Van Andel Arena, the DeVos Place Convention Center, Grand Rapids City Market, Michigan State University’s medical school and the DeVos Performance Hall are credited towards positively influencing a city trying to build their downtown and halt suburban sprawl.
Dick DeVos is also credited with changing the face of the Grand Rapids airport. When he cold-called AirTran Airways’ CEO to discuss the company coming to the Grand Rapids’ airport, it proved to be a fateful call that would ultimately completely change air travel for the entire West Michigan area. Shortly after AirTran Airways came to Grand Rapids, it was purchased by Southwest. DeVos was part of an essential group of businessmen credited for convincing Southwest to stay and lower their air fares.
After successfully convincing Southwest to remain in the area, Dick DeVos established the West Michigan Aviation Academy with his wife. Dick DeVos, who is a longtime pilot, was also elected to the top board of the Federal Aviation Administration in 2017. Membership is given to respected leaders among those who work in operation, policy, and businesses related to aviation.
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