Dick DeVos, newly tapped by the Trump administration to the leading civilian oversight panel of the Federal Aviation Administration, has been working in his home state of Michigan for decades to enhance business, tourism, education, culture and air travel.
The Amway heir and his wife, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy, are well known in Grand Rapids, Mich., for their philanthropy and civic work. Their mission to improve their community began with a 1991 project that resulted in changing the Grand Rapids downtown landscape.
Grand Rapids wanted a multi-purpose sports and convention area and was proposing an initial idea of building the complex north of the city.
DeVos, working toward the CEO post in his family’s Amway Corp, began lobbying against the proposal. He was concerned the move would leave downtown as desolate as Detroit after the Pistons and the Lions moved outside the city for the Palace of Auburn Hills and the Pontiac Silverdome.
“That lesson was not lost on us,” he stated in an interview with a local Michigan media outlet.
DeVos formed Grand Action with other business leaders. The group’s successful campaign resulted in several construction projects in downtown Grand Rapids, including the DeVos Place Convention Center, the Van Andel Arena, the DeVos Performance Hall, Michigan State University medical school and the Grand Rapids City Market.
Since then, Dick DeVos has completed several other projects promoting growth in Grand Rapids. He became well versed in the aviation industry years ago when he began a pitch to AirTran Airways to invest more resources in the Grand Rapids airport.
He cold called the airline executive, got a meeting, and eventually convinced the executive to visit Gerald R. Ford International Airport. The deal was soon signed for AirTran to run non-stop flights out of the airport and that forever changed travel in West Michigan.
There was one obstacle months later when the airline was bought by Southwest, a carrier that had no interest in Grand Rapids. DeVos told Southwest they should not just keep the non-stop flights to Orlando and Baltimore, but should expand them.
“They reduced service in other communities but we were not on that list. That was a big deal,” DeVos said. Learn more: http://www.dbdvfoundation.org/about
DeVos, with encouragement from his wife, also created the public high school West Michigan Aviation Academy. The school provides targeted education for students interested in flying.
The power couple also founded a school-choice advocacy group called the Great Lakes Education Project. The group, which includes a political action committee, won a battle against the formation of a commission that would have decision-making ability over opening all schools, including charter schools funded by the public. The measure was blocked in the legislature.