A couple of years ago, Dick DeVos had a vision of changing the direction of the Grand Rapids airport to make it extend its wings and fly to prosperity. Since Dick had direct access to the CEO, he decided to contact the CEO and share his plan on how the low-cost carrier could extend its profits by adding nonstop flights out of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport to other states.
Once southwest airlines came into the picture in the airport after purchasing AirTran airways that were serving in the Grand Rapids. Dick convinced the company to maintain their flights to Orlando and Baltimore, and they extended their flights to Michigan after seeing how business was taking up. Later on, direct flights went to Orlando, Baltimore, St. Louis, and Denver.
This growth in flights led to the Grand Rapids airport undertaking major changes to constructing restaurants, new washrooms, business centers and streamlining security checks with a total investment of $45 million.
This was the impact that Dick had on institutions; his efforts of change go back as far as 1991 when he decided to lobby against the construction of a multi-purpose sports and convention arena in Downtown. During that time, Dick was the CEO of his family’s Amway Corp.
His efforts in lobbying against the idea of constructing such a large facility stemmed through what he saw in the 1970s in Detroit, where the Pontiac Silverdome and the Palace of the Auburn Hills made the Pistons and the Lions leave the city. Dick never wanted construction to have such an effect in his hometown Grand Rapids.
During his campaign against the sports facility, he ended up mobilizing business leaders who were pioneers of the construction of the DeVos Place Convention Center, the Van Andel Arean, the Michigan State University’s medical school, the Grand Rapids City Market and the DeVos Performance Hall, to form the Grand Action Group.
Dick’s efforts of mobilizing this campaign is a natural thing to do because all through his adult life, Dick and Betsy have dedicated their time to change institutions and policies surrounding them. As mega-donors of GOP, they have influenced a lot of changes due to their political influence.
For instance, charter school expansion has been expanded by Betsy who also was carefully involved in making sure that the right people were in positions of power to influence the creation of policies and how they were to be implemented, especially in the education sector. Dick DeVos on the other hand also had an influence on reforms in 2012 where Michigan was converted to a right to work state from a state of organized labor. Michigan became the place where union membership was not considered as a term of employment.
Apart from their political influence, they also had philanthropic roots. For instance, between 1989 and 2015, scholarships to private schools, education reforms, leadership programs, arts and culture, churches, and health and human services received $138.7 million form the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation. This is how big their impact was felt across institutions.
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