The demand for Small Business Administration loan assistance increased sharply in the last three months of 1990 amid a slowdown in economic growth and tightening credit availability.

Nationally, SBA loan volume increased by more than 17 percent over the same quarter in 1989, with the southwestern states showing the biggest growth.Stan Nakano, director of the SBA office in Utah, said there is no way to explain the increase. "However, our Washington office says it could be a sign that small businesses continue to have confidence in the economy and are seeking capital but having difficulty finding it from conventional sources," he said.

Nakano said SBA studies show that its direct and guaranteed loan programs are sometimes the only credit available to strong companies that lack the track record to meet tightening bank loan standards without SBA guarantees.

In Utah, SBA loan volume in the 7a loan program increased during the quarter to 12.9 million, a 45 percent increase over the same period a year ago, when volume was $8.9 million. The number of businesses helped by SBA loan programs increased by 49 percent.