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Loans to small businesses in Western New York through a government-guaranteed program continue to grow at a healthy clip from last year.

The number of loans approved through the Small Business Administration’s core 7(a) program in the combined Buffalo-Rochester market increased 8.5 percent from a year ago, to 560. The combined value of the loans rose 28 percent, to $107 million, according to the SBA. The numbers cover a 10-month period, from the start of the fiscal year last October through July.

The 7(a) program, the SBA’s most common loan program, is aimed at helping startup and existing small businesses. The statistics for the program offer insights into small-business lending activity, as well as which institutions are participating and at what levels.

M&T Bank Corp. remained the heavyweight of the lenders list, with 228 loans for $41.3 million. Next came First Niagara Financial Group, with 90 loans for $11.3 million. It was the second straight month that First Niagara was the No. 2 lender, after moving up from third starting with the June numbers. Rounding out the top five were Five Star Bank, Evans Bancorp and KeyBank.

The 7(a) loan figures over the 10-month period for Five Star, whose parent company is Warsaw-based Financial Institutions, were almost identical to last year’s. It had 73 loans, compared with 72 last year, and its total loan value was $10.2 million, compared with $10.4 million a year ago.

“The key indicators we look at, such as unemployment, suggest that the upstate economy has improved moderately over the last year,” said Charles J. Guarino, director of marketing at Five Star. “We continue to see SBA demand consistent with last year’s levels.”

Applicants seek 7(a) loans for purposes such as business expansion, debt consolidation and working capital, Guarino said.

Canandaigua National Bank has made strides on the list. It had 25 7(a) loans during the 10-month period, good for sixth place. A year ago, it had only nine 7(a) loans and ranked 10th. Its 7(a) loans so far this year added up to $2.37 million, the 11th-highest total among lenders but nearly quadruple its amount from a year ago.

Among all participating lenders in the Buffalo-Rochester market, 57 7(a) loans were originated in July, for a combined $5.9 million, according to the SBA.

email: mglynn@buffnews.com