The 1980s were, in many ways, the beginning of the end of the United States’ reign as a true global manufacturing superpower. The decline of U.S. industry brought with it incalculable suffering for America’s working class, who once were known the world over for their high standard of living and financial security. By the end of the 1980s, however, many of the jobs that had once defined America as the real-world Worker’s Paradise, helping the capitalist system to win the ideological war versus communism, were gone forever.
Some cities throughout the country were able to nimbly refocus on other economic activities. Others were never heavily reliant on industry in the first place, allowing them to weather, unscathed, the economic storm wrought by mass plant closures. But for many towns in the state of Michigan, the manufacturing downturn of the 1980s marked the final nail in the municipal coffin.
Detroit was particularly hard hit. The city that had once been known as the Paris of the West would ultimately become the first major city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy. By 2013, when a federal judge approved the restructuring of all of the once-great city’s debt, more than half of Detroit real estate lay vacant or decimated and basic services, such as police patrols and garbage collection, had all but come to a halt.
Other impoverished Michigan towns, like Flint and Battle Creek, were hardly any better off. Flint made headlines in 2014 as the city’s water supply became too contaminated for its residents to drink or use for any household purposes. This was again a result of decades of slow civic decay, ultimately resulting in the presence of third-world cities right in the heart of the richest nation on Earth.
But in Grand Rapids, a city in West Michigan that is located a half hour from the shoreline of Lake Michigan, something radically different took place. Dick DeVos, one of the area’s most prominent business leaders, convened a group of the city’s best minds in the early 1990s. Known as the Grand Action Committee, the group was determined not to let the same fate occur to Grand Rapids that had befallen towns like Detroit and Flint.
Leading the way, DeVos personally invested tens of millions of his own fortune to jumpstart the development of some of the most impressive projects that the Downtown area had ever seen. One of the projects that his initiatives were able to kick off was the DeVos Place Convention Center. As one of the largest facilities of its kind in the Midwestern U.S., the DeVos Place was a key factor in bringing hundreds of millions of dollars in new economic activity to the Grand Rapids area. As a result of the influx of trade shows and other conventions hosted by the center, area hotels and restaurants have experienced a dramatic uptick in business that has lasted more than two decades and shows no sign of abatement.
As someone who believed in Grand Rapids even when it was down and out, Dick DeVos has personally made a nearly incalculable difference in the city’s lasting prosperity.
To learn more, visit http://dickdevos.com/news/.