A Connecticut banking company is pushing farther into the West Hartford market with plans to buy a competitor.

New England Community Bancorp, which has $433.2 million of assets, last week agreed to buy $84 million-asset First Bank of West Hartford in a stock deal worth about $17 million.

The deal was spurred by New England Community's success in the market last year with a start-up branch. "Once we entered the market, we realized it was quite an attractive market," said Anson C. Hall, chief financial officer.

He said New England Community, the parent of New England Bank, seized the opportunity to buy First Bank when it put itself on the block.

Mr. Hall said New England Community especially liked First Bank's status as a Small Business Administration preferred lender, which lets it expedite small-business loans.

"We had a brief foray into SBA lending and we couldn't quite make it work," Mr. Hall said. "We didn't have the right people."

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