The airport in Grand Rapids used to be small. Before the early 2000s, the airport’s traffic had died down, despite a revamp in 1999 that changed the airport’s name to Gerald R. Ford International Airport and promised bigger commercial flights. However, ticket sales were still down by 2000, and it was time for the airport to do something different. In order to make those changes, Dick DeVos reached out to the CEO of AirTran Airways.
AirTran Airways had a few terminals at the Grand Rapids airport. Dick DeVos knew the CEO and gave him a call to discuss how they could coordinate a ticket sales boom at the airport. DeVos had an idea. As the son of Rich DeVos, he had been working for Amway at the time as President, but later, he would become an entrepreneur and philanthropist.
Part of his work revolved around making Grand Rapids into a destination and bringing a booming economy to his hometown. His thought was that business travelers would come to Grand Rapids as a conference destination, and he began plans to build up the city in order to attract new businesses and conference interests.
Talking to AirTran Airways was a piece of this plan that would ultimately create the most economic difference for the city and the airport. At the time, the airport was struggling with sales, but once the new destinations were added, the airport’s growth took off. People were intrigued by the new destinations that included Orlando, Las Vegas, St. Louis, and Denver. Just by adding these “convention” city destinations, it was clear that Grand Rapids could take on some new business travelers.
However, much of the sales were also because the new destinations had more family-friendly and adult travel entertainment possibilities. The airport only seemed to benefit more as new destinations and more airlines came to roost, building the airport into a truly international destination transport facility. It would lead to renovations under the Gateway Transformation Project, which just completed its first phase. It cost about $45 million, but now the airport is much larger and has a business traveler’s center, as well as a new food court.
Dick DeVos was recently named to the Management Advisory Council for the FAA because of his achievements with Grand Rapids and the airport. His efforts have been recognized by many in the airline business, including the CEO of Southwest. However, DeVos remains quiet in any political aspirations. He is currently only helping the FAA once every quarter, discussing policies, regulations, budgets, and future growth options.
DeVos has been on the council for a little over a year now while still working with business leaders in his hometown. He will be continuing his efforts with the council for the next year, and he may possibly consider moving into other political circles. He currently joins his wife, Betsy DeVos, the 11th US Education Secretary on Capitol Hill.
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