Grand Rapids, Michigan, is currently one of the most sought-after places to live, work and play of any city in the Midwest. The city has the typically low living costs of other Midwestern areas. But it also has a distinctly cosmopolitan feel, with vibrant nightlife, professional sports teams and many attractions located throughout its expansive borders, including being a standard stop for most of the top concert tours in North America.
Grand Rapids’ hip, upscale feel stands in stark contrast to some of its sister cities throughout Michigan. Names like Flint, Detroit and Battle Creek have become almost poisonous, being synonymous with violent crime, urban decay and failing schools. It was this latter category that gave Grand Rapids business leader Dick DeVos his first taste of the extreme menace that urban decay and flight can pose to a city. DeVos had long been involved in educational causes. This took him throughout the state of Michigan where he was involved in designing charter schools and curricula that could help some of the most disadvantaged but talented students achieve their full potential.
One of the most challenging projects of DeVos’ career was attempting to find solutions to the deep problems facing the Detroit Public School System. The schools had been largely defunded due to a fleeing tax base. Additionally, the city itself had suffered from brain drain and a general flight of the productive classes. This meant that the population that remained had more problematic students with traits not conducive to academic success. This higher proportion of bad students seriously undermined the effectiveness of the schools for the good students. DeVos eventually solved some of the problems by strictly segregating the best students from the troublemakers. But the entire experience left a deep impression. He knew by the mid-1980s that Detroit was probably lost forever.
This was a fate that he did not want to see repeated in his hometown of Grand Rapids, which had already begun to show the early signs of urban decay. DeVos made it his goal to prevent Grand Rapids from beginning the same inexorable spiral into oblivion that had destroyed cities like Detroit, Flint and Battle Creek. He formed an organization of the area’s top business leaders that he called the Grand Action Committee. The organization had one goal: to make strategic investments that would create a critical mass of economic activity, spurring a positive-feedback chain reaction that would ensure growth and long-term prosperity.
DeVos wasn’t afraid to literally put his money where his mouth was. He shelled out tens of millions of dollars of his own money, helping to fund the construction of projects like the DeVos Place Convention Center and the Van Andel Arena. He also invested heavily in the creation of the Medical Mile, a one-mile stretch of Michigan Ave that boasts some of the most prestigious medical institutions in the country. These include the Helen DeVos Children’ Hospital, a worldwide mecca for the treatment of certain rare childhood diseases. The Medical Mile has infused billions yearly into the local economy and has attracted world-class specialists from many disciplines.
To learn more, visit http://www.dbdvfoundation.org/.