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Michigan has a new, rapidly growing airport. The Grand Rapids airport set another record for its passengers in 2018. It was the fifth straight year that the airport had received such growth. There were nearly 3.26 million passengers traveling in and out of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in 2018. This is the most for the airport to experience in one year, but it has been growing ever since the early 2000s. A large part of this growth is due to changes that businessman Dick DeVos helped to create.


DeVos saw the airport was struggling in the 1990s, but he first had to work out other plans with business leaders in town. He wanted to create a more business-friendly town with several new buildings and organizations for entertainment and growth in the central business district. He worked with Grand Action to help implement these new city planning ideas, such as the convention center.


All of this was part of a bigger strategy to bring in business travelers to the city and create a new revenue stream, as well as greater ticket sales for the nearby airport. However, the plan would take several years to implement. He started by working with the city leaders to create the new convention center, sports arena, and performance hall. He funded much of the construction through the DeVos Family Foundation, and by the end, Grand Rapids looked like a totally new city.


Now in 2019, the airport that was once so small that it didn’t have but a hundred or so passengers per day, is now seeing 3.26 million passengers in a year. That kind of growth is insane for any business, but DeVos knew all along. He started talking to airlines in the early 2000s at the airport, starting with AirTran Airways. He called up the CEO and asked if he would consider opening up new destinations at the Grand Rapids location.


The CEO agreed and opened up four new flights that would entice business travelers in the conference circuit to also come to Grand Rapids. These destinations included Orlando, Las Vegas, St. Louis, and Denver. This strategy worked, bringing in new passengers almost instantly and skyrocketed growth at the airport for the next three decades. Now the airport has consistently had over 2 million passengers per year since 2014, and it will likely set a new record in 2019 as well.


Local community leaders in Grand Rapids have cited that DeVos has done a lot to put Grand Rapids on the map. The city planning and growth can be attributed to the DeVos Family Foundation, but the airport’s growth really came from that one phone call to the Air Tran Airways CEO.


It’s one of the reasons why he was nominated to the FAA’s Management Advisory Council in 2017. The council is made up of 13 members from different backgrounds in transportation authority and airline business. Former airline executives on the council praised the appointment of DeVos because of his work with the Gerald R. Ford International Airport.


In addition the airport just finished a $45 million remodel. The renovations were completed in 2018 and upgraded the older airport considerably, adding in a new business traveler’s section as well as upgrades to the food court area. These upgrades have made the airport skyrocket to the top of the list, being named the number one airport in North America.


Now the airport is entering the second phase of its Gateway Transformation Project. This will include $18 million in additional upgrades that will improve technology around ticketing and baggage services, allowing for more front-of-the-house technology to make traveling easier through the airport.


DeVos will continue to work with the airport as well as the FAA, helping the agency with new policies and regulations through 2019 and 2020. The agency is still working on its changes to airports to help America compete with foreign markets. These changes come after President Trump challenged the aviation industry in America to become as good as other foreign country airports had become.


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