With three grocery stores, two casinos, two health care clinics, several restaurants, and many other enterprises and services, Citizen Potawatomi Nation always looks for ways to improve its electrical system and reduce power consumption. CPN tribal member and Toupin family descendant Justin Whitecotton leads the electrical department as its director, and each day brings new challenges and exciting opportunities.

“I have like four pages of to-do things sitting on my desk,” he said and laughed.

“It’s never boring. It’s always something, and it’s really fulfilling to be involved and have a lot of input in the way things go.”

Whitecotton has seen the Tribe expand and grow since he began as the director in 2019; projects include constructing Iron Horse Industrial Park, improved outdoor lighting at CPN businesses and adding an electrical substation. He enjoys seeing a bit of everything in one job.

“We’re always looking for better ways to do things. Keeping up with the construction projects and improving a few parking lot light projects to adding generators. We do everything electrical, from light bulbs to the substation,” Whitecotton said.

Family to foreman

Growing up in Shawnee, Oklahoma, he began helping his father at 10 years old at residential construction sites. He owned his own electrical contracting company and mainly worked on houses. Whitecotton attended college for a brief period after graduating from Shawnee High School in 1995 but decided he wanted to work as an electrician as well.

Since then, he has followed jobs across the country for different businesses and owned his own. He has helped hospitals, lit homes, worked on the Grand Casino Hotel & Resort, wired industrial sites and much more.

“I did learn a lot from (my dad) about not just life lessons, but how to operate a successful business and some of that stuff, which has helped me a lot here. Because there’s really not a lot I haven’t seen,” Whitecotton said.

He learned everything on the job. His knowledge outpaced his father’s as he expanded his experience as a young professional, and Whitecotton taught him more when they worked together again in Whitecotton’s late 20s.

After living in Washington state, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and other parts of the country, returning to his hometown came at an unexpected time. He saw it as an excellent opportunity to lead the Tribe and help improve its self-sufficiency.

“Being from Shawnee, being a Tribal member, I was very familiar. Actually, my company did some contracting work for CPN, even before, like the corner store. I wired all that — the police station, the eagle aviary, some of the buildings at the golf course, the sushi restaurant, the Grand. So I was fairly familiar with the workings,” Whitecotton said.

The department has focused on conserving energy and saving the Tribe money through rebate programs throughout the last three years. The work has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings for CPN. One large project in 2020 included changing hundreds of outdoor lights at CPN businesses. The lamps shine brighter, last longer and consume less electricity.

“It’s not a real welcoming atmosphere if you go there and there’s parking lot lights out everywhere. Like the grocery store, you want to seem like you’re a well-maintained, welcoming facility. So we did all the parking lot lights all the way around FireLake Entertainment Center, FireLake Arena, FireLake Discount Foods, and I think we’ve had one out of 300 go bad in almost two years,” and it resulted in rebates of almost $100,000, Whitecotton said.

Unique projects

One of the department’s most exciting recent projects included equipping a new locker room at FireLake Arena for CPN’s professional basketball team, the Potawatomi Fire.

“We did all that internally. So in 10 years, it’ll be our electrical department that goes back and works on all that, which that is very unique, and you don’t usually perform the new construction and then all the maintenance,” Whitecotton said.

He also worked for a hospital group in Tulsa for a few years before coming to CPN. His time there included one of the most rewarding jobs of his career — updating and improving the lighting in the neonatal care unit.

“I had to move all the newborns out one time to run some pipe and wire through the viewing area,” Whitecotton said. “But seeing all that, especially kids that have health problems and stuff, and you’re working on something that really meant a lot to them, to their families. It seemed a little more important than just wiring an office building or something like that.”

He finds providing an essential resource to many different types of businesses throughout his career rewarding, and he enjoys helping CPN’s more than 2,000 employees function on a day-to-day basis.

“We’d like to keep it that way, if we can keep things working and stay unobtrusive and just let everybody else do their job. And that way there’s no issues, no power loss, no lights out,” he said.

Whitecotton looks forward to new challenges in the future, as Citizen Potawatomi Nation expands and continues construction on healthcare facilities, offices and more.