Dick DeVos, the billionaire Republican donor, former Amway CEO, and husband to Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education under Donald Trump, has long used his money, power, and political capital to influence change in his home state of Michigan. In 1991, he began lobbying against the construction of a sports facility in Grand Rapids, successfully blocking its constructing. From this came the creation of the group Grand Action, which brought together local business leaders and has since had a significant impact on the Grand Rapids skyline, successfully pushing for the construction of a number of businesses and public spaces, including the DeVos Performance Hall, the Grand Rapids City Market, the DeVos Place Convention Center, Van Andel Arena, and the medical school of Michigan State University.
Both Dick and Betsy DeVos inherited sizeable family fortunes and have used that capital in order to influence political legislation they support. Dick DeVos is known for lobbying politicians to pass legislation which shifted Michigan from the hub of organized labor to right-to-work state more that is more hostile to unions. Betsy DeVos lobbied for “school choice” initiatives, making Detroit (and MIchigan as a whole) more saturated with charter schools than any other state in the country. Charter schools receive public funding but are not subject to the same educational requirements as traditional public schools; some charter schools are religious in nature.
Another successful venture by Dick DeVos involved the revitalization of the Grand Rapids Airport. By cold-calling the CEO of AirTran Airways, which is owned by Southwest, DeVos was able to bring the low-cost airline to the Grand Rapids Airport, with flights to Denver, St. Louis, Baltimore, and Orlando beginning in 2013. The growth in passengers skyrocketed to four times the national average shortly after and spurred a $45 million upgrade project that is scheduled to be completed in 2018. The revitalization of the airport is significant not only for Michigan locals, but also for DeVos, as Amway headquarters are located in Grand Rapids and the charter aviation school begun by the DeVoses is located nearby as well.
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