General Electric’s finance unit is expanding lending to small and midsize businesses as confidence in U.S. economic strength grows.

Bloomberg reported that GE Capital said it increased proposals to U.S. commercial lending and leasing customers by 16% in the first quarter from a year ago. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization grew by 10% at companies to which GE Capital lends, Dan Henson, CEO of GE Capital, Americas, said in a telephone interview.

Small and midsize companies are becoming more optimistic about the outlook for their businesses, with 67% forecasting revenue growth this year and 74% expecting to hire additional workers, according to a GE Capital survey of 495 chief financial officers at companies with annual sales of $50 million to $1 billion. Ninety-four percent of the CFOs said the U.S. economy will grow or remain stable in 2012.

“Our customer base continues to become more profitable, which supports the view of these CFOs that we’re on more stable footing,” Henson, who oversees commercial lending and leasing in North America, said in an interview.

“More and more they see a growing environment,” he added.

Credit availability has improved for companies in the survey, with only 7% saying access to funds has decreased over the past year. That’s compared with 24% in the first quarter of 2010, when GE Capital first conducted the poll.

GE Capital’s North American commercial loans and lease volume grew 15% last year to $106.8 billion. Worldwide, the unit’s $45.7 billion of revenue last year accounted for 32% of GE’s $142.2 billion in total sales.

The company is scheduled to report first-quarter results on April 20.