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De Vos talked the chief executive of the low-cost carrier into a meeting, which led to visit to Grand Rapids and eventually the decision to run nonstop flights out of Gerald R. The next hurdle was convincing Southwest, which had rebuffed previous efforts by community leaders to come to West Michigan, to keep the nonstop Grand Rapids routes to Orlando and Baltimore.

"We said, 'We don't think you should continue service.

De Vos' call got through to the CEO faster than most.

Aviation geek and pilot A self-described aviation geek and pilot, De Vos didn't have much experience flying commercial when he was asked to take the lead on bringing Southwest to Grand Rapids. "There are some conversations better off done between people," De Vos said. There are certain conversations in business that you don't start off in a big group.

We think you should expand service in Michigan because this is so good,'" De Vos said. They reduced service in other communities but we were not on that list.

That was a big deal." In summer 2013, Southwest added direct flights to Denver, St. Shortly after that, Ford's growth in passengers began tracking at twice the national average. Education Secretary Betsy De Vos and oldest son of Amway co-founder Rich De Vos, had an obvious stake in wanting the Grand Rapids airport to be successful.

The group would invest about million into the effort.

While the group's formation was announced to the media, the meetings were private.

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