Dick DeVos is best known for being a Republican politician. His narrow loss to Jennifer Granholm in the 2006 gubernatorial race for the state of Michigan cemented his image in the public mind as a career politician. DeVos is also the husband of longtime Republican leader and current Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. These associations with Republican politics have become, for better or worse, what the majority of people who have heard of Dick DeVos think about when they hear his name.
However, the truth is that Dick DeVos is a highly accomplished entrepreneur, civic leader and education reformer. In fact, the vast bulk of his accomplishments have nothing to do with politics at all. Around his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, DeVos is thought of less as a political figure and more of a leading business figure and someone who has been instrumental in the high level of success that the city has experienced.
Today, Grand Rapids ranks among the only major cities in the entire Midwestern United States that is consistently experiencing year-over-year growth. The city has been ranked by such publications as Forbes and Travel and Leisure as among the best places in the United States in which to live, play and work. But things were not always so good for Grand Rapids. In the late 1980s, the town that had once been the furniture manufacturing capital of the world had fallen on hard times. Amid a backdrop of widespread deindustrialization, Grand Rapids was quickly sliding towards the same abysmal fate that had consumed many of its sister cities, such as Flint, Detroit and Toledo.
The city’s industrial base was quickly shrinking. This was causing increasing commercial real estate vacancy, leaving block after block of the city’s urban core populated with abandoned heavy industrial properties with few alternative uses. At the same time, the city’s crime rate began to spike. This was leading to more flight of the productive classes to the outlying suburbs. It was clear that something needed to be done.
Dick DeVos was willing to step up to the plate and make the big moves that were needed to save the city. He started the Grand Action Committee, a committee of more than 50 of the area’s top business leaders, who were dedicated to fomenting enough investment to create a critical mass of economic activity that would carry the city into a prosperous future.
DeVos was among the first to commit his own money to the project. All told, DeVos invested tens of millions of his own money in downtown-area projects. The DeVos Convention Center is among the most prominent of these. But DeVos was also instrumental in creating the Medical Mile as well as the Van Andel Arena. Today, as a result of his efforts, downtown Grand Rapids is one of the most thriving city centers in the country.
Follow Dick DeVos on Facebook.