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New uses in works for Hancock plant

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By MEGAN JAMES

HANCOCK — Developments have been slow coming in Hancock since Thomas Fabbioli purchased the former Vermont Plywood plant at an auction last November. Still, the new owner is working with town officials to ensure his vision — transforming the building into a marble processing plant and business cultivation center — becomes a reality.

Fabbioli, who owns Vermont Verde Quarry in Rochester, hopes to use a small portion of the 118,000-square-foot building for cutting and polishing Vermont Verde’s serpentine marble, a process that will require six to 10 employees, and rent out the rest of the plant to start-up businesses.

“This thing is very fluid right now,” Fabbioli said. “I’m trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together to create something successful.”

But he acknowledges that the Hancock puzzle is a complicated one. Business cultivation is a great idea, but with a population of 250, it might be difficult to find enough people to do the cultivating, he said. Fabbioli is currently brainstorming additional uses for the space, like housing, that might encourage potential business owners to set up shop in Hancock.

Working closely with the town on broader issues of economic development is going to be an essential part of bringing the old plant back to life, he said.

According to selectboard Chairman Robert Walker, town officials have discussed hiring someone to work solely on issues of economic development.

“We had talked about the possibility that it might be a paid position,” he said. “It’s awfully hard to find volunteers to do such a thing.”

In the past, Hancock officials have worked with their state representative, Ripton Democrat Willem Jewett, and a number of agencies — including the Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission, the Vermont Economic Development Authority, the Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission and the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund — to organize a forum on economic planning for the White River Valley.

“I think we need to get beyond the building by building approach,” Jewett said. “We’ve been through a couple cycles of closings and reopenings, biting your fingernails for a couple years.”

In order to look at the broader issues of economic development in the region, Jewett has recently gathered support from Two Rivers-Ottauquechee and Sustainable Jobs to apply for a planning grant.

“Sustainable Jobs says we can get sufficient funds to bring in the expertise,” he said. “What we need is someone from the community who’s really willing to put in the time.”

But things are moving along at a slow pace, and Walker doubts it will pick up speed until the Hancock residents themselves take some initiative.

“Everybody’s busy, economically we’re not doing too well,” he said. “Unless someone steps forward, I don’t think (the economic planning) will happen.”

Still, Fabbioli, who has been rehabilitating old buildings as a general contractor for 25 years, is optimistic about the Hancock plant project despite the roadblocks.

“I do look forward to creating something in Hancock that people can be proud of,” Fabbioli said. “It’s going to be a very unique project.”

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