As reported by Crain’s Detroit Business, prominent businessman Dick DeVos has been leaving a large footprint in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. In 1991, two years before he became CEO of Amway, the company co-founded by his father, DeVos successfully fought plans to built a sports and convention arena outside of the city’s downtown district. Having learned from the adverse impact that hit Detroit when it did just that, DeVos, instead, spearheaded a push that led to major building projects, several of which bear his family name, within downtown. These efforts have been largely successful in revitalizing Grand Rapids and putting the brakes on suburbanization.
DeVos’ influence goes well beyond business planning and development. He and his wife, Betsy, the U.S. Secretary of Education, have been major Republican Party donors. Their family foundation has contributed nearly $140 million to a variety of humanitarian, cultural, religious, and political causes. Aside from this, they were the biggest contributors to a children’s hospital named for his mother in Grand Rapids, an addition that eliminated the need for families to travel out of town to seek comparable treatment.
While DeVos lost a race for governor in 2006, he bounced back in 2012 to successfully push for a state law that deleted union membership as an employment requirement. Although the DeVoses were unsuccessful in 2000 in persuading Michigan voters to approve publicly funded vouchers for private school students, they subsequently influenced similar successful initiatives in 24 states and the District of Colubmia.
MLive has noted that DeVos, a licensed pilot, was appointed in September 2017 to the Federal Aviation Administration Management Advisory Council. The overlap of his business and aviation acumen is highlighted in a separate report from MLive that relates his role in building up the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids. Apart from his intervention, service there might have declined, but he ultimately convinced Southwest Airlines to actually expand the available flights and destinations.
DeVos, who is now CEO of The Windquest Group after leading Amway for nine years and whose family owns the Orlando Magic, co-founded, with Betsy, the West Michigan Aviation Academy. As reported by U.S. News & World Report, the academy is a tuition-free charter school that mixes aviation with conventional classes and gets funding from both the state and the DeVoses. Reflective of the couple’s advocacy for school choice and educational alternatives, it boasts a growing student body, including a robust minority population, and above-average SAT scores.
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