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Small-business lenders locally are keeping up a robust pace of activity in government-backed loans, a positive sign for the economy.

Twenty-five lenders have provided 392 loans totaling $81.9 million in the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Western New York district during the first seven months of the federal fiscal year, through the end of April. The number of loans increased by 19.5 percent from the same seven months a year ago, and the dollar amount was up by 57 percent.

“I think it’s an indication of the economy starting to make an upward turn,” said Frank J. Sciortino, the SBA’s district director.

The Western New York district covers the Buffalo and Rochester markets. The loans were made in the SBA’s primary 7(a) program, which borrowers turn to for everything from working capital to equipment to real estate.

The loans were to existing companies, as well as new ventures, Sciortino said. “We’re seeing a lot of startups, which is good.”

Buffalo-based M&T Bank Corp. led the list of lenders, by a wide margin. Its 157 approved 7(a) loans accounted for 40 percent of the total in the Western New York district for the seven-month period.

“We’ve seen increased volume in our SBA loan totals this year, and that trend continued in April,” said Alfred F. Luhr III, M&T’s senior vice president for business banking. “There has been some pent-up loan demand from small businesses in Western New York that have now started moving forward with projects as some of the uncertainty in the economy has eased.”

Luhr said the SBA has also applied feedback from banks and made some changes that have helped promote lending. For instance, Luhr said, M&T has been making a number of loans under the redesigned Small Loan Advantage program. He said the bank can provide loans of up to $350,000 to its small-business customers with an expedited paperwork process.

Five Star Bank, the Warsaw-based subsidiary of Financial Institutions, was second in 7(a) loan approvals, with 59 in the current fiscal year. First Niagara Financial Group and Evans Bancorp were third and fourth, respectively.

M&T also led decisively in the total loan dollar amount, with $32.34 million, followed by Five Star’s $8.4 million and First Niagara’s $7.24 million.

email: mglynn@buffnews.com