Urban strategist Dick DeVos formed Grand Action, a group of Michigan businessmen who changed the Grand Rapids skyline and the direction of the city. He did not lose his city to urban sprawl. DeVos called Air Trans Airways and convinced them to fly nonstop to Orlando, Florida, from the Grand Rapids’ Gerald R. Ford International Airport. His success led to $45 million in improvements to the Grand Rapid’s airport: new security and check-in procedures, new business centers, and the expansion of local restaurants.
Southwest bought AirTran Airways a few months later and negotiations began again. Southwest previously refused Dick’s invitation to locate a transportation hub in west Michigan. DeVos managed to keep Southwest Airlines in his hometown airport by demonstrating Air Trans’ success. Southwest expanded the nonstop flights between Grand Rapids and Orlando, Florida, and added nonstop flights to the Baltimore Washington International Airport in Baltimore, Maryland. Southwest Airlines also added nonstop flights from Michigan to Denver, Colorado, and St. Louis, Missouri.
Forbes Magazine voted Dick and Betsy DeVos 26th among America’s Top Givers in 2016. With inherited family money, Dick and Betsy DeVos spent most of their lives changing institutions and policies. As GOP mega-donors, they’ve influenced state laws and improved the standard of living in Grand Rapids. In 2012, Dick DeVos successfully converted Michigan to a right-to-work state. Michigan employees are now free to choose whether they want to belong to a labor union. Dick and Betsy DeVos donated $12.5 million for the construction of the $103 million DeVos children’s hospital named for Dick’s mother Helen. Michigan families no longer have to drive to the Mayo Clinic for specialized pediatric medical care.
West Michigan Aviation Academy
With his wife Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of the United States Department of Education, Dick DeVos opened an aviation charter school, West Michigan Aviation Academy, in 2010. He donated the school’s first airplane and lent $3 million in the form of no interest loans to the school for flight simulators and other equipment. The aviation charter school encourages minority and low income children to excel in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The nonprofit charter school flourished into a 600-student public school on the grounds of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport. Placement in the West Michigan Aviation Academy is determined by public lottery because applications always exceed the number of openings. The tuition-free public school receives $7,500 per child from the state of Michigan every year, and the DeVos Family Foundation has contributed more than $7 million to the school.
On September 28, 2017, Dick DeVos was appointed to the FAA’s Management Advisory Council by the United States Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao. The oversight board advises senior FAA officials on strategic planning, policy and decision making, spending, and regulatory procedures. His three-year appointment is strictly voluntary, and he’ll remain a pilot and board member of his aviation charter school.
Gerald R. Ford International Airport
“Dick will be a tremendous asset to the FAA Management Advisory Council. [His] deep roots in aviation as a pilot … [made him] an outstanding partner with our airport. He’ll bring strong leadership skills and industry insight to the FAA” according to Jim Gill, CEO of Ford International Airport.