You may not have known who Dick DeVos was before the 2016 election. His wife Betsy Devos became the 11th US Education Secretary, and from there, history was made. The DeVos family has always stayed out of politics, but in this instance, Betsy DeVos was finally at the top of education reform, which is what she had been fighting for over three decades.
Dick DeVos was a different story. He had met Betsy DeVos at Calvin College. They lived and worked in Grand Rapids, raising a beautiful family and building the community. They both had aspirations to work in politics and were members of the Michigan Republican Party. Dick DeVos would even run for governor in 2006.
Over the years, Dick DeVos worked with local business leaders to build up western Michigan. He also donated over $139 million through the DeVos Family Foundation with his wife Betsy Devos. The pair even co-founded a charter school called the West Michigan Aviation Academy. The school trained pilots on the grounds of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, which had just been recently renovated and renamed in 1999.
However, there were other things happening beneath the surface in their hometown due to the economic depression sweeping Michigan in the 1990s. In fact, Detroit has never fully recovered from the depression that came after factories and corporations left the state in the early 1990s.
DeVos wanted to make things better for his hometown and the business leaders who supported the town. He started by working with a group called Grand Action. They would be responsible for building the town’s entertainment district and business center, including a brand new convention center. DeVos had a plan to bring in more business travelers by turning Grand Rapids into a conference and convention location just like Vegas and Orlando.
He began to work with the airport soon after that. He talked to the CEO of AirTran Airways over the phone and convinced him to open up new flights to Vegas, Orlando, St. Louis, and Denver at the Grand Rapids airport. This action would drive sales through the roof for the once-small airport, which would rapidly expand over the next decade.
Now the airport is a bustling multi-million passenger airport that has a business traveler center and new food court. This strategy to rebuild the airport caught the attention of the FAA, who has now appointed DeVos to their Management Advisory Council.
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