DeVos discusses why West Michigan is special

GVL / Robert Mathews     
Dick Devos speaking at the Peter F. Secchia Breakfast Lecture held at the Seidman Center in Grand Rapids, MI.

GVL / Robert Mathews Dick Devos speaking at the Peter F. Secchia Breakfast Lecture held at the Seidman Center in Grand Rapids, MI.

Ryan Jarvi

Grand Valley State University’s Peter F. Secchia Breakfast Lecture offered Grand Rapids native Dick DeVos a chance to tell hundreds of people why he thinks West Michigan is special.

“I started making a list, and I realized that there were too many things that were unique and interesting that I couldn’t combine or distill all of them,” DeVos said Tuesday.

DeVos is president of Windquest Group, an organization based in Grand Rapids that invests in technology, clean energy solutions and manufacturing. He offered audience members a number of qualities he thinks make the area special, including its cleanliness, geography and philanthropy.

“There’s a generosity of spirit around this community, a willingness to give,” he said. “A lot of places you go, you ask a question and the first answer is always no, and you have to work to yes. In West Michigan, the first answer is normally yes.”

West Michigan is also characterized by its faith perspective, accepting attitude and work ethic, DeVos said.

“There’s a work ethic, and it’s not just showing up, but it’s an attitude toward work,” he said. “That work is a good thing, that work is something that we’re called to do, that work is productive, that work is service. It’s a way that we serve others (and) it’s a way that we participate. It seems to me that the work ethic here, that we bring joy to our work, that we find meaning in our work. That is something important.”

He also said the ability of schools such as GVSU, Aquinas College and Grand Rapids Community College to attract students is an important part of the West Michigan area.

“We have this natural magnetic attraction going on with these schools that are bringing in these young people who are bringing their creative energies, their dynamism, into our community on a regular basis,” he said. “(They’re) bringing new people to our community, and they fall in love. They fall in love with our community, or they fall in love with someone they met in our community. Either way, they stay.”

DeVos also said the area is conservative in all the right sense, and “conservative in the fact that things are run with a certain amount of restraint and discipline.”

Though Grand Rapids may handle its finances conservatively, DeVos said he doesn’t see the downside of conservatism in the area.

“What I find fascinating is that the downside of conservatism, which always is unwilling to try new things, stuck in the past, unwilling to engage in different conversation—the downside of conservatism doesn’t seem to be present in West Michigan,” he said. “That in this conservative, religious, traditional, family-oriented community, ArtPrize comes along and is embraced.”

ArtPrize, which was founded by DeVos’ son, Rick, celebrated its fifth year this past October.

“It’s extraordinary to me what’s happened,” DeVos said. “It’s extraordinary to me how that was embraced by the community. It’s not totally surprising to me when you look at the context of entrepreneurship.”

Entrepreneurship involves creativity, which is essentially what ArtPrize celebrates, DeVos said. “There’s a nature of entrepreneurship in this community of figuring out if something needs to be done better and then going and figuring out how to do it better,” he said.

Twenty-five years ago, people in Detroit weren’t exactly sure where West Michigan was or how to get there, DeVos said. Now he hears all over the state that people are discovering what the area has to offer.

“Certainly within the state of Michigan, comparatively, West Michigan and Grand Rapids has exploded on the scene,” he said. “People come here expecting this backwater community, and they find what we’ve got going here. It’s always great. It’s not that we always score a 10, but when you’re expecting a three, we look pretty good.”

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