The U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Connecticut district office has recognized First Niagara Financial Group as the top 7(a) lender in the state, First Niagara announced today.

Following its April 2011 acquisition of 88 NewAlliance Bank branches in Connecticut and Massachusetts, First Niagara Bank’s SBA lending total for Connecticut was $8 million in 2011 and $14 million in 2012.

In 2010, prior to the merger, NewAlliance extended $6 million in SBA 7(a) loans to Connecticut small businesses.

“First Niagara has built upon the success of its predecessor, NewAlliance, by working closely with the SBA to offer 7(a) loans to businesses throughout the state,” said Bernard Sweeney, district director for the SBA, in an Oct. 23 statement.

The 7(a) loan program is one of the SBA’s primary lending devices, designed to assist startups and existing businesses secure financing when they might otherwise be unable to secure a loan through traditional channels.

With the NewAlliance acquisition and a subsequent acquisition involving more than 100 HSBC Bank USA branches across the Northeast, First Niagara, based in Buffalo, N.Y., has 430 branches across New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.