As the son of Richard DeVos, the co-founder of Amway Arenas, Dick DeVos had large shoes to fill. He would eventually work for his father as Vice President of Amway in the 1980s, but he left in 1990 to pursue other goals. For one, he wanted to help his hometown of Grand Rapids. At the time, many areas of Michigan were struggling. Businesses were leaving Grand Rapids because of the lack of community and commerce in the downtown area.


All of this would eventually lead to his invitation to join the FAA’s new Management Advisory Council.


DeVos saw a way to change all of that, but it meant getting personally involved in city planning, business leadership, and a renovation of an entire city structure. DeVos wanted to bring in business travelers to Grand Rapids, allowing for new tourism revenue. One of the first steps that he took was to establish rapport with local business leaders through a committee called Grand Action.


Grand Action led to the formation of DeVos Place Convention Center, DeVos Performance Hall, and Andel Arena. These were new sites built in the center of downtown, which is where the business district was located. These new buildings and funding would lead to a flush of activity in the renovated downtown sector, but DeVos also had another phase to his strategy.


He wanted to work with the local airport, which had experienced stagnant growth in the past decade. Although the airport was originally founded in the early 1900s, it continued to be small and lacked some of the destinations that helped larger nearby airports in Detroit. DeVos talked with the CEO of AirTran Airways, which was one of the only airlines at the Grand Rapids location.


The airport also went under a renovation. It was renamed to the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, and AirTran agreed to add more flights to its terminals. This would include flights to popular business travel destinations like Orlando, Las Vegas, Denver, and St. Louis. This move put Grand Rapids on the map and brought in 3.26 million passengers to the area just in 2018 alone.


Finally, the airport was seeing new ticket sales, but that wasn’t the end. With the new ticket sales and growth, the airport began to expand under two projects called the Gateway Transformation. This new renovation added smart technology and customer convenience features, as well as a new business traveler section of the airport. In addition, Gerald R. Ford International Airport won awards for its transformation.


The FAA took note of this and began to work with DeVos through their Management Advisory Council set up in 2017. Now DeVos is providing his methodology to help with renovating America’s airports. This includes a $40 million project to renovate the GSO Tower.


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