PROGRESS 2019: ‘Not slowing or stopping’
With vision and execution, Konczak makes his mark on Alpena
ALPENA — To Jeff Konczak, impossible is only a word.
As part of Alpena’s so-called New Generation of entrepreneurs, Konczak has been at the forefront of development in Alpena for nearly two decades, revamping and revitalizing the region in ways others may have never thought possible.
It’s hard not to notice Konczak’s influence. From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration building and Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center to Biggby Coffee to Harborside Mall to the boardwalk, Konczak has helped fuel job creation, manufacturing growth, and economic development, modernizing and improving his hometown.
It all stems from Konczak’s belief that he has good ideas that will work and make Alpena better.
“Alpena is going to a place where people can’t believe what’s happening now, let alone what’s to come,” Konczak said. “I’m not slowing or stopping.”
Most recently, Konczak’s creation of the firm BCubed has helped revitalize manufacturing in Alpena.
The company makes modular, standalone drive-thru facilities for Biggby at the former ATI Casting foundry and has manufactured drive-thrus for Biggby locations in Swartz Creek, Birch Run, Saugatuck and Stevensville, in addition to the Alpena location, which sits in the Meijer parking lot on M-32. The company is also building drive-thrus for locations in Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Ohio, among other states.
The idea came about when Alpena’s Biggby location couldn’t support a drive thru and Konczak thought it needed one. One day at lunch, he sketched plans for a modular drive-thru facility on the back of an Arby’s napkin.
“That’s where the sketch came from,” Konczak said. “I needed a drive-thru desperately, but I didn’t have a place to put it. The idea is that I knew I needed something, I just didn’t know how. I feel a bit energized of late. I think our BCubed opportunity is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a long time.”
‘I BELIEVE IN IT, MAN’
Another one of Konczak’s lasting developments in Alpena — the Maritime Heritage Center and NOAA building on Fletcher Street — came from sketches, too. When he met over coffee with Jeff Gray, superintendent of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and showed Gray his plans for a 20,000-square-foot building, Gray thought he was crazy.
But Konczak believed in the idea and, by 2004, the building and campus was a reality, with the square footage and color scheme that Konczak had originally presented to Gray on a laptop.
Since then, the sanctuary has become one of the pillars of tourism in Alpena — attracting 100,000 visitors annually — and is renowned by researchers, divers, and academics around the globe for its research, protection, and maintenance of shipwrecks and other historic and geological features of Thunder Bay and Lake Huron.
Konczak called the sanctuary one of the projects with which he’s most proud to be associated.
“My statement (to Jeff Gray) was, ‘I believe in it, man. I think this could change Alpena,'” he said. “It’s amazing that here we are 15 years later, and it really has done that.”
Konczak’s development isn’t just limited to Alpena. He has developed Veterans Affairs clinics in Claire, Lansing, Gaylord, and Traverse City.
But there’s little doubt he’s left a major impact on his hometown.
Since the early 2000s, Konczak has made a point of acquiring some of Alpena’s most unique and historic buildings and pieces of property, many of which have a personal connection for him.
His grandfather worked at the ATI Casting foundry where he built BCubed, for example. His father worked at the Fletcher Paper Mill, adjacent to the Maritime Heritage Center. And Alpena’s Biggby location is the old Summit Sports Building, which Konczak remembers from his childhood.
It would be easy for some developers to simply knock old buildings down to start anew. But Konczak isn’t keen on destroying Alpena’s history.
While some of his historic properties haven’t been developed — yet — Konczak said it’s all about having the right idea in place for a particular piece of property, noting there are plans in the works for several sites.
“Those things from childhood are kind of important,” he said. “My father worked at the paper mill his whole career, I worked there as a summer intern and now I own it. To me, it’s about, ‘This is my hometown, and we’re from here, so anything we can do to make it better is really what we try to do.'”
His companies have big plans to be part of Alpena’s future, but Konczak also cautioned that everyone involved in Alpena’s growth needs to be realistic about how much and how fast Alpena grows, especially when it comes to new projects.
One project in the works is a $4 million park that could change the face of the Thunder Bay River for the foreseeable future.
The Alpena Municipal Council recently voted to allow a grant application to fund a sports complex and community park next to the Maritime Heritage Center on property Konczak owns.
Konczak supports the project, but is still looking into the particulars, since the project is a big commitment.
When he was growing up, Konczak couldn’t wait to explore life outside of Alpena. Now, he’s proud to see Alpena’s growth and to play an important role in Alpena’s present and future.
“I think this is the place to raise a family, no doubt about it,” he said. “And I think some of us who are the New Generation of entrepreneurs, you see us everywhere. You see the Erik Petersons of the world, you see the Jeff Grays and the Trina Grays, and just, really, anybody that’s doing something new where we knew we can make (Alpena) better.”