Maybe it's the celebrity factor or maybe it's the local success story. Whatever the reason, one of the biggest local events geared toward women in business appears to be experiencing a surge of interest.

Organizers of Thursday's Bakersfield Women's Business Conference report nearly 1,400 people are planning to attend the event, up from between 1,000 and 1,200 in recent years past.

"Right now tickets sales are going great," Marketing Chairwoman Irma Lancaster said. "We're getting close to selling out."

Thirty years after its debut, the all-day conference at the Rabobank Convention Center will feature TV star and movie actress Shannen Doherty as its keynote speaker. Bakersfield businesswoman Raji Brar will be opening speaker, and the closing speaker will be digital strategist Jay Shetty.

Lancaster said she suspects the speaker lineup is what's driving ticket sales this year.

"We have a lot of people that are interested in Shannen Doherty," she said.

But she said it may also be that Brar, whose family owns Central Valley development company and retail operator Countryside Corp., accounts for the jump in sales.

"A lot of (attendees) usually attend because they are interested in starting something of their own," she said. "People are always looking at ways to give back and she (Brar) is a great example of someone who does that."

Brar, a familiar figure in Bakersfield business circles, was elected to the Arvin City Council in 2007, making her the first Sikh woman elected to a city council in California.

Co-host of the reality show "Off the Map with Shannen and Holly," Doherty is perhaps best known for her roles in the television shows "Little House on the Prairie" and "Beverly Hills, 90210." She has also been featured in the movies "Heathers," "Mall Rats" and "Christmas Caper."

Conference Chairwoman Norma Rojas-Mora said in a news release Doherty's struggle with breast cancer fits with the theme of this year's event, "Believe in the Power of You."

"Unleashing your power and overcoming life's challenges is empowering," she stated. "We are impressed with Shannen's successful film and television trajectory and the strength she has exhibited during her battle with cancer. Her story of breast cancer survival can serve as an inspiration to so many struggling to overcome unforeseen challenges."

Shetty, a former monk whose online videos have attracted more than 3 billion views since 2016, gaining him more than 20 million followers, is considered a significant media influencer.

The conference will feature a number of breakout sessions about business and other topics.

New to the event this year is a "pamper room" benefiting The R.O.S.E., which stands for Realizing Options for Student Excellence, a mentorship program founded in 1994 by an emeritus faculty member at Cal State Bakersfield.

For a separate, $30 donation to The R.O.S.E., conference attendees can enter a room where vendors will on hand to demonstrate and offer samples of a variety of beauty products.

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf. Sign up at for free newsletters about local business.

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