Dick DeVos has been working in Grand Rapids for a long time. His work has been recognized by those in aviation and in certain government circles. His wife is Betsy DeVos, the 11th US Education Secretary. She has been working with her husband for many years in the Michigan Republican Party. He even ran for governor in 2006. However, many did not realize that DeVos was such a passionate pilot and aviation businessman until recently when he was tapped to join the FAA.
The Federal Aviation Administration created a management advisory council that included 13 members from transportation and airline executive backgrounds. Dick DeVos was the only one to be from a pure sales and entrepreneur background, but in fact, he has transformed many businesses with his strategies. One of them involved the Grand Rapids airport.
While many know that Grand Rapids has an airport now, it wasn’t like that just a few decades ago. The airport had been around in the area since the early 1900s, but by the 1990s, it had become dilapidated, a former vision of an international executive airport. It was behind in technology and didn’t have enough flights to popular destinations. Even after the airport re-launched under the name Gerald R. Ford International Airport, it wasn’t until DeVos started working with the airport that they saw some growth.
DeVos started by making one phone call. He talked to the CEO of AirTran Airways. He convinced the CEO to go along with his new strategy. DeVos had just finished building the DeVos Place Convention and DeVos Performance Hall in downtown Grand Rapids. With the airport bringing in new travelers, he felt that he could market Grand Rapids as the perfect business conference destination. He started by adding flights to Las Vegas, Orlando, St. Louis, and Denver.
These were all locations where business travelers currently frequented, but it was the influx of ticket sales from nearby residents that truly made the airport successful. The new flights would allow them to go to so many new places. The Grand Rapids airport quickly became a better place to fly into than Detroit, and it was clear that the city had a lot of growth in a short period of time.
Now DeVos is working with the FAA to do something similar for other airports around America. His work has allowed the airport to receive $45 million in funding for the “Gateway Transformation Project.” This project will add much needed technology to the airport, giving travelers more comfort and faster passes through security. There is also a new business traveler center, where travelers can get caffeine, relax, and charge up their devices or do some work.
The FAA will be working with DeVos for another two years.
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