Dick DeVos Saves the Decade in Grand Rapids

For many years, Grand Rapids suffered economic setbacks in the 1990s. At this time, many of the factories were leaving the state, and it was causing a depression across Michigan. However, western Michigan was supported by the DeVos family, who worked with businesses in the area to build up the city instead of letting it fall.


While Detroit continued to suffer economic problems, Grand Rapids was rising out of the muck thanks to Dick DeVos. As the son of the Amway co-founder Richard DeVos, Dick had always been legendary when it came to business, and he worked hard to help business leaders in the area throughout the 1990s. He even joined a group called Grand Action to help make the city better.


With funding from DeVos, many new buildings were constructed in the downtown area to promote commerce and traffic. This would include the DeVos Performance Hall, DeVos Place Convention Center, and Andel Arean. While the thinking was that these buildings would bring in new business, it wasn’t set in stone that this would actually happen. DeVos only knew that he had a plan to bring in more traffic to the city.


The next phase involved the nearby airport. Western Michigan had always had a small executive airport since the early 1900s, but DeVos wanted to do something more with the airport. He wanted to turn it into a business traveler’s paradise and upgrade its technology. He wanted to see it expand and gain more ticket sales than any other nearby airport.


So how was he going to do that?


The answer and strategy have made Dick DeVos a legend. He called up the CEO of AirTran Airways on the phone and simply asked if he would add more flights to the airline’s terminals at the small Grand Rapids airport. It was slow at first to build, but the ticket sales grew once those flights were added. The airport was finally doing business, and it wasn’t going to go bankrupt now.


The airport would continue to expand and even received $45 million in funding for new technology and a business center. These actions would also get DeVos appointed to the FAA’s new Management Advisory Council, where he would work with the FAA on new policies, budget planning, regulations, and other ideas for growth. His appointment was praised by those in the aviation industry simply because of what he did in Grand Rapids.


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