DANVILLE — Mike Potter never imagined he'd return to work in Vermilion County, where he grew up, but when the right job opened up recently, the Westville native was lured back home.
Potter, 51, is a pilot, flying instructor, certified airplane mechanic and inspector, who had managed the regional airport in Morehead, Ky., since 2010.
His new gig, come April 1: manager of Vermilion Regional Airport.
Potter was one of about 20 who applied for the position, and of the six candidates the airport board wanted to interview, he was their first choice, according to board Chairman Steve Foster.
Not just because of his local roots, Foster said, but because he had the strongest skill set and experience in some important areas. The job requires someone familiar with maintenance, managing personnel and economic development and who's comfortable working with government agencies, particularly the Illinois Department of Transportation, which provides a lot of the funding for the facility's annual budget of just under $1 million. Other funding comes from local property taxes.
"He seemed to be the strongest in all three areas," said Foster, who, along with other board members offered the job to Potter at an annual salary of $60,000.
Next month, Potter will succeed the retiring Bob Gagnon, who has been the manager of the airport north of Danville for more than 30 years.
Potter, who has three adult children with his wife, Tracey, said he's excited about the new challenge.
"I'm really looking forward to being up there," Potter said. "Being back near my parents and sister and friends, that was just a bonus."
The 1983 Westville High graduate first got into aviation while working in a lumber yard in Greenville in southwestern Illinois when he took a side job to pay for flying lessons.
"I fell in love with aviation and just can't get enough of it," said Potter, who continued working his full-time job and flew on the side, eventually earning his instructor's license. He then went to work at Greenville's municipal airport for about six months before moving on to the Shelby County Airport, where he worked as a pilot and flying instructor for about 20 years before accepting his current job in Kentucky.
At Morehead Airport, Potter wears many hats — managing the airport; providing services like fuel for all the flights; giving flying lessons; and handling all maintenance of the facility and grounds, among other duties.
At Vermilion Regional, Foster explained, there's a Fixed Base Operator, a contracted business separate from the airport management that provides the fuel and other services for flights. The airport manager, he said, focuses on oversight of the facilities and grounds, including safety, hangars, runways and other buildings, and on recruiting tenants for the hangars.
Potter said he has a knack for getting people interested in aviation, and the number of pilots and planes at the Morehead facility has more than doubled since he's been there, which he said is mostly due to his flight instruction services. He plans to offer flight instruction at Vermilion Regional as well.
He's also looking forward to the new event this summer — Balloons Over Vermilion — that will be based at the airport. He wants to organize an open house at the airport in the fall and an air show in 2017.
"It's a new challenge that I'm definitely looking forward to," he said.