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SVHEC - An interview with James Potter / April 04, 2011
James Potter, or just Potter to his friends, was introduced to the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center (SVHEC) last summer when he provided a project management training course to the staff. For 18 years, Potter worked for U.Va. as a management consultant and trainer. He then worked for eight years as a Pharmaceutical Research Associate, providing global training and consulting to clients. For the last two years he has served as a U.Va. adjunct faculty member providing project management training and consulting.

Question: How did you first learn about the SVHEC and what were your initial impressions?
Potter: I first heard about the SVHEC because my in-laws are next door in Mecklenburg County. Having the SVHEC means having the ability to reach out and provide higher education to the local community, and to meet their needs at a low cost. All of those items are key.

Question: How would you describe the resources and assets of Southern Virginia?
Potter: Southern Virginia has a wealth of untapped human resources that can be used for various things. The issue is how do you tap into them and how do you provide employment and education to them?

Question: How do you think the region benefits from the SVHEC's work?
Potter: The SVHEC ends up being a focal point for economic development. If you have a place (like the SVHEC) that's trying to grow people, it can then support both your current industry and your future industry. It also supports people so they can find employment locally and also regionally. Yes, you can work for the local hospital in South Boston but you're also within commuting distance of other healthcare centers.

Question: What has surprised you the most about the region?
Potter: The one thing that's really surprised me about the region is the community pride and community action. I'm not in the Southside but I hear about depressed conditions in Southside. I admit they're there, but the one thing that I really see when I go to South Boston and the SVHEC is an energy level to make things happenóto overcome those issues from a business, community, and a personal standpoint. I'm not saying there aren't economic issues and unemployment in Southside, but for me based on the energy level alone, you're well on your way to overcoming those issues.

Question: The people of Southern VA have had a difficult number of years. From your perspective, why should they see the glass as half-full instead of half-empty?
Potter: Through education and entrepreneurship Southside can pull it off. It really is that the human spirit, the community spirit has not been broken. It's not like in some communities where there's this mental depression. I don't get that feeling in Southside.

Question: In part I of Dr. Adams' editorial she spoke of Southern Virginia being on the cusp of renewal. Would you agree with that assessment?
Potter: Things are happening there. Take the whole Prizery concept and all of the initiatives you have going on in the new Innovation Center It's not Boston or Silicon Valley - it's South Boston. Things are happening and Southern Virginia is dynamic. For me, you're just waiting for the break that's going to truly make things happen. It's waiting for Mercedes or Rolls Royce to show up - but it may not be Rolls Royce that does it. It may be a small 20-person business that pulls it off because that's where job growth is.

Question: From your perspective, how does the higher education center model compare with other, more traditional models of education?
Potter: One of the advantages of the higher education center model is the model allows you to choose between the best and brightest of multiple institutions to best meet the communities needs. It's about growing students who'll stay in Southside, contribute to the region's growth, and create new opportunities for prosperity.

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