Grand Rapids, Michigan, is one of the most prosperous and sought-after towns in the Midwest. Despite being located in a state that has been hemorrhaging residents, especially from the populous Detroit metro region, Grand Rapids has been attracting net immigrants for decades. But it wasn’t always this way. Towards the end of the 1980s, the town was facing some of the same telltale signs of urban decay that had ushered in the destruction of its sister cities like Detroit and Flint. At that time, it was becoming clear to some of the city’s civic leaders that something radical would need to be done, or the city would face the same slide into oblivion that had consumed other post-industrial Michigan towns.
Dick DeVos was among the most concerned of the city’s leadership. DeVos had been one of the city’s foremost entrepreneurs and philanthropists since he was in his 20s. The son of Amway founder Rich DeVos, the younger DeVos was instilled with an ironclad work ethic almost from the time he could walk. As a child, he frequently worked alongside his dad in the company offices and the warehouse. By the time he was in his 20s, he was working full time for Amway and pursuing some of his own ventures on the side.
But as the ‘80s gave way to the ‘90s, DeVos realized that he needed to step up and take on one of the most ambitious projects that he had ever attempted: saving his hometown from destruction. He got together with some of the top business leaders in the city, forming what would become known as the Grand Action Committee. The Committee had one goal. It would seek to foment enough investment to jumpstart the local economy, reaching a critical mass of economic activity that would sustain Grand Rapids into a future of lasting prosperity.
DeVos led by example. He invested tens of millions of dollars of his own money in such projects as the DeVos Place Convention Center, one of the largest facilities of its kind anywhere in the country. The convention center alone would help bring in billions of dollars in additional commerce to the city over the ensuing decades. DeVos was also instrumental in the creation of the Medical Mile, a one-mile stretch of Michigan Avenue that features some of the most renowned medical practices anywhere in the world. Of particular note, Grand Rapids is now a leading area for the treatment of children’s diseases, with parents from across the globe placing their trust in Grand Rapids physicians to cure their children.
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