Behind the scenes in Amway's hometown

Jun 10, 2009

This blog is supposed to be about what IBOs and employees are doing for One by One.  But there is another story worth sharing about Amway’s hometown and the impact its founding families have had on economic growth and the quality of life here.

In Grand Rapids, it’s pretty well known how much the DeVos and Van Andel families have invested in our community. We pretty much take it for granted, and you even hear some people grumbling about seeing their names on buildings and recognition plaques.

But when our global distributors were in town for Founders Council and Executive Diamond Council meetings a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded of the “bigger picture.”

We gave our guests an option to use some of their down time to take a bus tour around the city. Early on, we didn’t expect a big turnout because most international visitors like to go shopping, play golf or taste the local cuisine.  However, several hundred guests signed up for the tour.

Besides showing them a very quaint and vibrant downtown Grand Rapids, we pointed out some of the anchors of economic growth and how the DeVos and Van Andel families helped to creating positive change in the area.

Amway owns two hotels, one renovated and built in 1982 and the other opened in 2007. The Amway Grand Plaza Hotel was a catalyst for growth in Grand Rapids in the early ’80s and was part of a concerted effort to bring more meeting and convention business to the area.

But Jay Van Andel and Rich DeVos’ commitment was beyond underwriting the hotel…they and other community leaders invested time and energy in mobilizing support for the rehabilitation of downtown Grand Rapids. They were actively engaged in the revitalization of their hometown.

We took the IBOs by the Van Andel Arena, a 12,000-seat facility that the Van Andel family gave the lead gift for in 1996. Dick DeVos co-chaired Grand Action, which generated the local community and government support and investment needed to build the Arena and later DeVos Place.

The arena has spurred millions of dollars in investment in the surrounding area since then. I remember living in California at the time it was built, and each time I would come home for Christmas or in the summer, I would see more restaurants, more nightlife and more shops opening up around it.

Then there is the DeVos Place Convention Center, opened in 2003, which has more than a million square feet of exhibition space and is drawing conventions and large meetings that support local jobs and local businesses.

But the crowning achievements and legacies of the families are tied up in two projects: a new Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, which is going up as I type, and the Van Andel Institute, a world-class bio-medical research center that focuses on cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

These projects and others in the medical area have transformed our community, which has been hit hard by the downturn in the economy, especially in the auto industry and manufacturing over the past decade. They give the Grand Rapids community a unique distinction as a destination for leading medical research and care.

Of course, the DeVos and Van Andel families are not solely responsible for economic growth in our region. They would be the first to name others who gave time and dollars to make projects happen. Grand Rapids is fortunate to have business leaders who share a vision for making our community stronger, like the DeVos and Van Andel families, Pat and Peter Cook, Fred and Lena Meijer, Peter Wege and many others. And Grand Rapids has had strong leadership from the likes of Dick Gillette, Lyman Parks … I could name a lot of people here.

As an Amway employee, and one focused on corporate citizenship, it is good to know that our leaders feel strongly about investing in the communities where they do business. And they have passed these values along to the next generation that is now running Amway.

Perhaps more importantly, they share these values with the millions of distributors who participate in the Amway business and define what it stands for in the next 50 years. It’s not just talking the talk, but walking the walk, by making a real commitment to making life better for others.

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