With the Central Economic Working Conference set for next week and the economic downturn expected to worsen, another top state leader made the trip to Guangdong yesterday to assess the state of the province's manufacturing sector, according to various reports. A number of provincial sources and media reports said a member of the Communist Party Politburo's Standing Committee visited some manufacturing businesses in Guangzhou's development zone, and would carry out a similar tour of Zhuhai today. The unnamed official was the fourth member of the mainland's seven-member Politburo Standing Committee to visit Guangdong in little more than a month. Li Changchun , He Guoqiang , and Premier Wen Jiabao have all made the trip south since mid-October. During Mr Wen's trip last month, his second to Guangdong in six months, he urged officials to support small and medium-sized enterprises in the province by giving them easier access to credit extensions and loans. There is consensus among economists that the mainland is facing its most severe economic downturn since 1998. Ding Li , an economist with the Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences, said that by learning about the problems Guangdong faced, state leaders could figure out solutions for the broader economy. Mr Ding said that as one of major engines of the mainland's economic growth, Guangdong's gross domestic product accounted for one-eighth of the country's total, and this was why top leaders were paying such attention to the province. 'The problems we have now might spread out to the other parts of the country soon,' Mr Ding said. He said the recent Guangdong trips made by state leaders were part of preparations for the economic working conference next week. Guangdong's GDP growth in the first nine months of this year was 10.4 per cent - the lowest in 15 years. And from January to October, growth in tax revenue dropped by 12.3 percentage points to 19.8 per cent compared with the same time last year. The central government had planned to overhaul its industrial structure to move away from resource-intensive manufacturing, and Guangdong was key to the effort. But the financial crisis is slowing efforts to move tens of thousands of clothing, shoe and toy factories to other parts of the province. Mr Ding said the industry upgrade included not only attracting popular information technology businesses, but also technological improvements in labour-intensive industries. Given that the global financial crisis had slowed foreign investment, Guangdong should help its SMEs focus on innovation, the 'core of economic transformation', he said. He said innovations could take years to bear fruit, so businesses and officials had always neglected it in good economic times. 'Now it is time to really focus on long-term innovation plans that can boost officials' standings during a slow growth period,' Mr Ding said.