By DAVID KLEPPERPROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) â¿¿ Rhode Island would reimburse businesses for providing internships under a plan announced by Gov. Lincoln Chafee that aims to train and retain young skilled workers in the economically battered state. Chafee proposed the $2.5 million internship program as part of his $8.2 billion state budget proposal. The money could support nearly 1,500 internships in a variety of industries over two years. He said internships can play a key role in the efforts to boost workforce training. "Internships do work," the independent governor said. "You learn the companies, the company learns you. And so often, people get hired out of these internships." Businesses could apply for up to half of the cost of internships that pay at least the minimum wage. Rhode Island is tied with Nevada for having the highest jobless rate in the U.S. at 10.2 percent in December. State leaders have identified workforce readiness as a key challenge to improving the state's economy. Ray DiPasquale, president of the Community College of Rhode Island, said internships can give talented young workers a reason to stay in Rhode Island â¿¿ potentially helping to reverse the state's population decline. The state was one of only two in the nation to lose population between July 2011 and July 2012. Workers who complete internships, he said, "are more likely to stay here, work here and be involved in our communities." Top lawmakers and a leader at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce said the idea could be a cost-effective way of boosting workforce development. But they stress that more will be needed to prepare the workforce for jobs that they say will boost the state's economic fortunes. "There's very strong evidence that internships lead to jobs," said chamber President Laurie White. Another proposal being considered by lawmakers would allow unemployed workers to collect jobless benefits while they train for a new job. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Joseph McNamara, D-Warwick, said the proposal is modeled after programs in Georgia and New Hampshire.