Dick DeVos has become well known for his political activities. This is a result of his 2006 gubernatorial run in the state of Michigan. While he lost that race by just a few percentage points, he has nevertheless become etched in people’s minds as a political figure.
But the real Dick DeVos has never been much of a politician. In fact, he has spent his life in both business and philanthropy, areas in which he has been greatly successful. After having taken over the helm of the company of his father, Rich DeVos founder of Amway, DeVos proved his acumen as a business leader, leading the company to become a global powerhouse in direct marketing sales. He has also run a large number of his own companies, building a successful career and roundly proving his ability as a businessman and community leader.
But perhaps the most lasting of DeVos’ contributions are his philanthropic efforts. Nowhere have these been more visibly apparent than in the city of Grand Rapids, DeVos’ hometown, where he has lived since he was born. By the early 1980s, Grand Rapids was suffering from the same problems of other deindustrializing Michigan towns, which had been hollowed out by the loss of jobs and increasing white flight. The end result, by that time, had already become apparent in places like Detroit and Flint, while other towns, such as Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and Muskegon were well on their way to experiencing the same fate. If something was not done soon, it appeared that Grand Rapids was well on its way to becoming a hollowed-out, dilapidated urban core, in the style of Detroit or Flint.
But DeVos believed that something could be done. He formed the Grand Action Group, an organization of the area’s 50 top business leaders, who came together in an effort to reverse the decline of the downtown Grand Rapids area. DeVos saw real potential in a city that had enormous amounts of human capital but at the same time was suffering from urban decay and a large number of derelict and neglected properties. The Grand Action Group formed a multi-part plan that involved the creation of one of the largest medical zones in the country as well as the building of multiple world-class hotels and one of the Midwest’s largest convention centers. The plan began being implemented in the mid-80s and is still ongoing today.
Needless to say, everyone who lives in Michigan knows the extent to which these plans have been a resounding success. Downtown Grand Rapids has been named numerous times by such publications as Forbes, Fortune and others as one of the best places to live. It has also been named as one of the most important medical cities in the entire country. The so-called medical mile, anchored by the Van Andel Institute and Helen DeVos children’s hospital is one of the largest medical zones in any city in the United States, attracting patients, doctors and researchers from across the globe.