When Dick DeVos was named to the FAA’s new special counsel, it didn’t come as a shock to anyone in the aviation business. DeVos had been helping for years in his hometown, and he was credited with putting the Grand Rapids airport on the map. It all started back in the 1990s for the son of Richard DeVos, Sr, who was the co-owner and co-founder of Amway Arenas.
The sports arena brand continued to do well throughout the United States, but DeVos expanded sales globally throughout the 1980s. By early 1991, he was ready to make a change. He started to notice that parts of his hometown were falling into the bad economy trap that had consumed the state. He wanted to prevent that by helping with city planning and philanthropy.
Through the group called Grand Action, DeVos began to take a personal interest in the way that city leaders planned to address some of the major issues of abandoned business districts, loss of employment, and little to no commerce activity. DeVos saw that if there were new interest in the key parts of downtown Grand Rapids, the city could become a major metropolis.
He started to work closely with these business leaders, and together, they developed the DeVos Place Convention Center, DeVos Performance Hall, and Andel Arena. In addition, DeVos began to work with the local airport, as he wanted to direct business travelers to the area and pick up more international business connection flights.
The airport was renamed in 1999 to the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, and it became a bustling transportation epicenter for west Michigan. In fact, it grew to be so popular that it exceeded the original projection of 3 million passengers by 2020. The airport had 3.26 million passengers in 2018. This only came after a few years of new ticket sales, thanks to a move by Dick DeVos.
In the early 2000s, DeVos saw an opportunity to bring new travelers to the Grand Rapids airport. He talked to the executive team at AirTran Airways and convinced the CEO to open up new flights. These flights would go to Las Vegas, St. Louis, Orlando, and Denver. These were all towns in which businesses went to for conventions and conferences. DeVos saw a great opportunity to bring Grand Rapids into the fold.
As he worked on his plan, he also helped with raising funds for a major renovation project. The Gateway Transformation Project would expand the airport considerably, adding on a new technology center for business travelers as well as an upgraded food court and curbside services for passengers.
DeVos is meeting with the FAA once a quarter to discuss budgets and plans for growth in the industry.
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